When the Canadian wildlife removal company received a call from a resident for whom the earth was moving in 2017, it sent out its top man. There could have been anything lurking, hidden under the suburban lawn, so the officer approached with caution. With no idea about what he would find, the wildlife man reached out a heavily gloved hand. But when he lifted up a tuft of grass, there was a furry surprise underneath.
On May 27, 2017, Ontario Wildlife Removal – OWR – uploaded a video to its Facebook page which subsequently went viral. The cool clip came hot on the heels of an unusual call received from a man who was having problems in his front yard. In fact, the unnamed citizen informed OWR that his lawn was actually moving.
As its name suggests, OWR is based in Ontario, east-central Canada, where it offers wild animal removal and pest control services. The firm was established in 2016 by Jared Houliston of Brantford, ON. When OWR gets a call about stray wildlife on someone’s property, it sends out an officer to investigate. Animal control officers are trained to remove intruders as gently and humanely as possible.
Houliston has more than 20 years experience in the humane removal of errant wildlife. Nevertheless, nature can be totally unpredictable, so there are times when the expert has no idea about what he is going to be confronted with when he responds to a call. As a result, when Houliston went out to visit the moving-grass client, he had to face the fact that it could have been a snake out in the yard.
Thankfully, Ontario is home to just one venomous snake – the eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. Although the serpent can inject venom with its bite, it is actually quite a shy reptile, and it only strikes when disturbed. Nevertheless, people are still quite fearful of it, and it was possible that one was hissing on that suburban lawn.
But when Houliston arrived, there was no snake in sight, and nothing seemed to be amiss or going hiss. The only indication when the seasoned expert investigated the site of the incident was a faded patch of dead grass. But, nonetheless, there could always have been more to the lawn than there initially appeared to have been.
In the Facebook video, Houliston is pictured standing in the suburban front yard. Resplendent in heavy overalls, protective gloves and OWR cap, he explains what he first found on the property. “This just looks like a patch of dead grass, we don’t see anything going on,” Houliston points out. And then he reveals what the property owner had called in about.
Houliston’s gloved hand lifts up the patch of dead grass like the lid of a trapdoor, and it turns out to be a cunningly disguised cover for a dug-out underneath. Furthermore, there are a number of tiny furry shapes inside the hole. The caller must have witnessed them moving below the surface of the lawn, giving away their hideout.
The hole is shown to actually contain a rabbit’s nest, and the dead-grass was a roof for a litter of tiny kittens – or baby bunnies to the layperson. “You guys can see how cute these little guys [are] and how small they are,” Houliston says in the video. And then he picks one up with his gloves to show the camera exactly how small and cute this particular kit is.
The baby bunny squeaks adorably a few times, but then it seems to realize Houliston does not present a threat. The animal expert has taken care not to handle the kitten with bare hands. If momma doe rabbit was to return and smell human on her litter, the likelihood is that she would abandon her babies. Houliston informs his viewers, “Just a week ago, they were just little dots in the ground.” He then gently puts the little kit back in the nest, and covers it back up again.
Houliston goes on to say that OWR often takes calls about abandoned kittens in peoples’ yards. He reveals that does actually only visit their nests a couple of times a day. So even if it looks like the bunny babies are alone, they are usually still being cared for.
But not only do kittens risk being abandoned by their moms or needless relocation through the actions of well-meaning people, humans pose another unintentional threat. OWR has asked people to be careful when they cut their lawns. As a representative for the firm explained on its Facebook page, the humble lawnmower can be deadly to hidden baby bunnies.
Indeed, the company presented it as a kitten crusade. “Share this message to help save the babies,” OWR wrote on its Facebook update accompanying Houliston’s short film. “Often it’s too late when people cut their grass and don’t see them. Watch the video below and we will show you exactly what is happening. Besides, who doesn’t like to see a video of baby rabbits?”
Apparently, the babies are irresistible – the kitten uncovering video has more than three million views and some 85,000 shares. Not only that, but the footage seems to have been invaluable to many people with bunny nests in their yard. The video update has received almost 4,000 comments, with many about how Houliston has helped save kittens from being killed.
One grateful Facebook user wrote, “Thanks so much for posting this. There are so many posts of people saying they have found orphaned baby bunnies and people are telling them the wrong things to do. This video will be shared a lot.”
Another commented, “Jared this information is priceless. Thank you for sharing for those of us who would never have known – can’t imagine how horrible I would feel, knowing I missed that.” The feed is also full of other valuable tips for animal lovers to further protect any baby rabbits on their properties.
The potential for pet dogs to hurt or kill the kittens seemed to concern a lot of people, but OWR and its followers have some advice. Some Facebook users suggested watching the dog very closely, while another commenter recommended erecting a small fence around the nest. OWR then popped up to advise any prospective fence erector to ensure that they left room for the mommy doe to pay her visits.
Another contributor suggested using a milk bottle crate – with a hole made in the bottom for mom – to help protect the babies. Otherwise, the advice was to try and leave the kits alone as much as humanly possible. But, for people who suspect that they have come across an abandoned rabbit nest, there is advice available if you dig around in another corner of the internet.
Indeed, the website of Den Herder Veterinary Hospital in Cedar Valley, Iowa, has a canny trick to determine if kits have been genuinely abandoned. It suggests using twigs to mark the nest’s entrance with an “X.” When mommy returns to feed her babies, she will move the sticks when she accesses the nest. Therefore, if the twigs change position, it is likely that the doe is still attending to her young.
But there is one more thing to bear in mind. In the OWR video, Houliston explains that the baby bunnies will not be making the earth move under the suburban sod for very long. The wildlife expert says, “This is just a little education piece for you guys. So if you see a rabbit’s nest, let it be. They grow up quick, and in a couple of weeks they’ll be gone.”