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Breeding like rabbits: Row over wild animals’ presence in Paris

The animals, which are common in Les Invalides gardens, are no longer considered to be ‘pests’, prompting environmental managers to warn of the damage they can cause

A rabbit on some grass

Rabbits are common in Les Invalides gardens in Paris Pic: Robert Adamec / Shutterstock

A row has broken out over rabbits in Paris, as the animals are no longer classified as a ‘pest’, but green space managers say they cause damage and should still be limited in the capital city.

Rabbits are common in the gardens on the north side of Les Invalides, and are often welcomed for bringing a rural touch to the city. The Invalides colony of rabbits is thought to be the second biggest in Paris, after the colony in Bois de Boulogne.

However, until now, the rabbits were classified as ‘pests’, meaning that they could be limited if they became too numerous, including being captured and taken to other parts of France where needed. 

This is no longer the case, after the Paris authorities removed the rabbits’ status as “damage-causing species (espèce susceptible d’occasionner des dégâts, Esod), group 3”: the same group as pigeons and wild boar.

But environmental managers are now worried that the animals will now proliferate at damaging levels. 

Environmental engineer François Lebas told Le Figaro: “In general, a rabbit has between five or six births per year, from February to September, with around six baby rabbits per birth, so between 25 to 30 babies per year, if conditions allow.”

Managers of the space fear that the number of rabbits will grow uncontrollably, and, because food is limited in the capital, they will cause damage by gnawing on lawns, flowers, and tree roots.

Colonel François Rivet, who is in charge of the Invalides green space, said: “As part of Paris 2024, we were supposed to redo the flowerbeds, but we can't because the rabbits, by attacking the yew trees, have caused the death of seven or eight shrubs, cut the automatic watering pipes for the lawns and are damaging the lawns.

“In the moat, about sixty rabbits have dug burrows and are destabilising the verges. They have also just decimated a hundred or so recently planted geraniums. In addition, some of them die on site, especially in the heat, and this creates problems with visitors.

“Action is underway with the public authorities to find a solution by gathering the rabbits in a single corner of the site to limit the damage.”

The manager estimates that there are 300 to 350 rabbits in Les Invalides currently, and that regulation will still be needed to limit their proliferation despite the change in ‘pest’ status.

There was already a system in place for controlling the rabbits, hunters say; several times a year a hunting association came to tempt the rabbits out of their burrows and capture them in nets. The animals were then transported to other parts of France where their numbers are endangered.

Others were used as prey in places where birds of prey are being reintroduced, such as in the Drôme. 

Philippe Waguet, president of hunters’ association la Fédération interdépartementale des chasseurs d’Île-de-France (Ficif), who took part in the system, said: “All of this was very closely supervised. We didn't kill the rabbits as has been said. 

“We put them back in other departments. Sometimes rabbits died. We needed three prefectural authorisations: One to capture them, one to transport them, and a third to release them.”

Gendarmerie also help in the capture, and have claimed that the rabbits already cause €15,000 of damage over five kilometres of space each year, including furrowing the grass and piercing watering hoses.

But since February 2, a decision by the Paris police prefect no longer allows this to be done. It comes after animal protection association Paris Animaux Zoopolis (PAZ) brought a case against the city.

Hunters believe that the change in classification represents a “step backwards”, and leaves associations in a “legal impasse”, said Mr Waguet.

But environmental campaigners say that rabbits should indeed not be considered pests. 

Amandine Sanvisens, PAZ spokesperson, said that the change in status was a “victory in a fight that has been going on since 2018”. 

She said: “Rabbits are threatened with extinction in France, so it is incomprehensible that they should be classes as a ‘pest’.”

Ms Savisens also sought to play down fears of uncontrolled breeding of rabbits in Les Invalides. 

She said: “[Les Invalides] is an extremely limited area in terms of food and terrain. They cannot reproduce indefinitely. Rather than a threat, they are [actually just] an attraction for tourists.”

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