This B.C. rescue wants to dispel East Asian stereotypes during the Year of the Rabbit

A rabbit is pictured in Richmond, B.C. A local charity is hoping to celebrate the animals, as well as the East Asian community, during the Year of the Rabbit. (Akshay Kulkarni/CBC - image credit)
A rabbit is pictured in Richmond, B.C. A local charity is hoping to celebrate the animals, as well as the East Asian community, during the Year of the Rabbit. (Akshay Kulkarni/CBC - image credit)

A Richmond, B.C.-based rabbit rescue group says they're hoping to give back to the East Asian community during the upcoming Year of the Rabbit.

Rabbitats was formed during the last Year of the Rabbit in 2011. Run by volunteers, it has a sanctuary in South Surrey, and also helps run the popular Bunny Cafe on Vancouver's Commercial Drive.

But their founder, Sorelle Saidman, says the group is most active in Richmond, where she estimates up to 2,000 rabbits roam the streets. Rabbitats started out by trapping hundreds of rabbits in Richmond Auto Mall.

Saidman says she hopes the upcoming Year of the Rabbit will be a platform for the charity to honour the community, many of whose members volunteer, donate, and adopt bunnies from Rabbitats.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

She also hopes to push back against racist stereotypes surrounding rabbits and Asian people.

"One problem that our volunteers have had on occasion is people misconstruing why they're trapping the rabbits," she told CBC News.

"Coming up to our volunteers and accuse them of potentially trapping these rabbits to take them ... to a Chinese restaurant or something.

"[It] has been a longstanding and very hurtful cultural stereotype, and it's just so totally wrong," she said.

One of the ways they want to thank the community is by applying for a grant from the Richmond Community Foundation, she says, to fund a project focused on cultural awareness and dispelling stereotypes, for which they're currently looking for advisors to ensure the project is culturally sensitive.

Akshay Kulkarni/CBC
Akshay Kulkarni/CBC

Still, the rescue has big plans for the Lunar New Year: they are set to host a 10-day long "rabbit education" table at Richmond's Aberdeen Centre from Jan. 13 to 22.

They are also anchoring the Year of the Rabbit celebration at Chinatown's International Village Mall from Jan. 21 to 22.

"We're going to have, I'd say, 50 rabbits on hand," Saidman said.

"People will be able to come into a Bunny Hut that we're building in the rotunda there, and … learn all about bunnies.

"We're celebrating the Year of the Rabbit and we're celebrating the rabbits themselves."

Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press
Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

The Chinese calendar follows a 12-year cycle that is repeated over and over again. Each of the 12 years is represented by an animal.

Sherman Tai, a fortune teller and astrologer based in Richmond, says this year will likely be a good year for change in B.C.

"This is not superstition and this is nothing relating with the religious," he told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"This is only the statistics … which we used for thousands of years, based on yin and yang."

WATCH | A tour through Richmond's Aberdeen Mall during the festival: 

Rabbits not good in urban areas

Saidman says feral and wild rabbits in the Lower Mainland do not thrive in urban areas, despite what people may think.

"The reality is they just breed faster than they're killed," she said. "It is a dangerous place for them and they really don't have great survival skills."

Rabbitats says they have seen a spike in unwanted and abandoned animals over the past few months, as well as signs that bunnies were making inroads in municipalities across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

The organization is currently raising funds to move into a farm in Langley that would allow them to house more than 500 rabbits.