Wild rabbits came to the heart of Helsinki
By Paavo Tukkimäki
Wild rabbits have already penetrated to the heart of Helsinki.
Rabbits have been spotted in Kumpula, Pasila, around the Linnanmäki amusement park, on Observatory Hill, and on the shore of Töölönlahti.
The long-eared rascals have already become a problem in the University Gardens in Kaisaniemi and Kumpula, and the Malmi and Hietaniemi cemeteries have also been infested.
The rabbits appeared for the first time about a decade ago in Arabianranta and Kyläsaari, where the rabbit population grew to an estimated couple of hundred individuals. The region still contains probably the largest rabbit colonies, although increased residential construction has limited their habitat.
Field researcher Veli-Matti Väänänen from the Department of Applied Biology at the University of Helsinki and Markku Heinonen of the Helsinki Environment Centre believe that the rabbits have spread along railway tracks.
No rabbits have been sighted very far to the north, since the climate is too harsh for the animals everywhere in Finland except along the southern coastline.
The only wild rabbits in the country are probably in Helsinki, although Väänänen remembers hearing some reports from around Turku.
The precise number and distribution of the rabbits has not been defined. Väänänen estimates that the number of "urban wild rabbits" – as he wishes them to be referred to as – is in the hundreds in the autumn, but the winter will significantly diminish their numbers.
In the spring there are only a couple of dozen or a few hundred individuals left, but they multiply quickly, which makes up for wintertime attrition.
The urban wild rabbits are direct descendants of escaped or abandoned pet rabbits. They have begun to adapt to the Finnish climate.
In Väänänen's opinion the adaptation has occurred surprisingly fast, judging from the rabbits' colouring. Earlier, the animals were more colourful, but natural selection has caused the urban wild rabbits to look much like normal wild rabbits.
The newcomers to the urban environment have many enemies: people, traffic, predators, and the cold winter.
Foxes roam the city from time to time, and the urbanised eagle owl has established its territory. The predators cannot live off rabbits alone, but they do make a delicious snack.
The rabbits are so widely spread out that disease is unlikely to wipe out the entire population. According to Väänänen, the only true threat to the creatures would be a thorough extermination campaign, although the rabbits are likely to survive even this as long as there are some unused pieces of land and construction sites with temporary shelter.
The urban environment offers warmth and shelter; bird feeders provide seeds and even vegetables.
The field researcher takes a cold approach to the cuddly beasts: "An unnecessary addition to the ecosystem."
In his opinion, it is simply a matter of people's thoughtlessness that rabbits have been allowed to become a part of Finnish nature. The animals' living conditions are so unfavourable that it is already tantamount to animal cruelty.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.11.2005
More on this subject:
University botanists battle bunnies daily
PAAVO TUKKIMÄKI / Helsingin Sanomat