I recently chatted to Jenny Janse van Rensburg, founder of The Strawberry Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation that rescues stray bunnies from the streets and parks of Johannesburg. They wholeheartedly believe that bunnies should not be living outside without shelter, medical care and without proper food. Various projects are running which you can get involved in.
This is what Jenny says about The Strawberry Foundation, what they stand for, and how you can get involved.
Hi Jenny. In your own words, please can you tell me a bit more about the Strawberry Foundation. How and why did you get started and what makes your organisation different from other animal charities in South Africa?
My husband and I walked into a pet shop one Friday, something we don’t do often, because we don’t generally support them if they sell pets. I immediately noticed a lethargic adult bunny in the corner. She was the cheapest of all the bunnies. I picked her up and she adored the cuddles. I refused to put her back. We asked to make sure she was not the mommy of the babies running around, which they assured us. I just couldn’t put her back down. We paid for her (which we don’t advocate for) and left. We took her to the vet next morning just to find out that she was heavily pregnant and that explained her lethargy. She was also lactating which means she was actually the mother of the babies.
In a phone call to the pet shop, they suggested we bring her babies for them to sell. We were horrified. Pippa was booked to have a steralisation on the Monday, but alas, she wanted her babies, and delivered them on Sunday afternoon. We were in a 2 bedroom flat with 3 adult bunnies and suddenly 6 more babies. It was a nightmare but it also changed us for the better.
On their 5 week birthday, we arrived home to find that baby Strawberry was paralysed. We were on our way to my husband’s surprise birthday party, but that had to wait. We took Strawberry to the vet immediately. An x-ray confirmed an injured back, which could never be explained. We suspect he was born with a weak back as he never jumped out of the play pen like the others. The advised us to PTS (a polite veterinary term meaning “put to sleep”), and we didn’t know any better.
After a few months of mourning the loss of Strawberry, and as all the other babies found good homes, we decided to get more involved in rescue. We were approached by a lady in the Boskruin area who showed us what a massive problem the Boskruin bunnies are. There are 500+ bunnies free roaming, scavenging for food, fighting over territory, fighting for survival. We decided to get involved. Our hope remains that we would one day at least have all the Boskruin bunnies sterilised. We have already removed more than 160 bunnies, sterilised and rehomed them. But at this point, we can’t rehome anymore. It’s just a case of catching, sterilising and releasing. Unfortunately we have nowhere to go with the other 500+ bunnies.
I feel like bunnies are quite marginalised in South Africa, compared to other animals like cats and dogs. Why do you think this is, and as a non-profit organisation, what are you doing to raise awareness around this?
Often confused as hares, people think bunnies are wild and not that important. Sometimes, people see and think of them as food. People think this is “an easy first pet”. Then, of course, they are very cheap to buy in a pet shop. In all four instances, people lack education on how complex they are, how much effort they require, but also how much love they can provide.
We are creating awareness. We are especially focusing on visiting schools and educating children.
Why should people consider fostering or adopting a bunny, and what do people need to know about the process of fostering or adopting? Bunnies aren’t necessarily the right pets for everyone. How do you ensure you make the right match every time?
Fostering a bunny means that you will take care of the bunny until it finds a permanent home. This may take months, but we assist with supplying the correct food. We are desperate for fosters. We continue to pay for medical care, etc. To be a foster, you need to have a safe space for the bunny to sleep and a safe space for them to play.
Adopting a bunny means you are taking on all responsibility for the duration of this bunny’s life. One can’t understand the joy a bunny brings unless you’ve had one before.
When possible parents apply for adoption, we take many factors into consideration, including the other pets the family has, the children and their temperaments, the environment the bunny will live in, the ability to afford vet bills, their knowledge of bunnies and of course their attitude toward owning one. We simply don’t just give our bunnies away.
How can people get involved with The Strawberry Foundation if they aren’t able to foster or adopt a bunny?
Our biggest problem is donations. As much as we need funds for sterilisations and medical bills, you can also donate the following:
- Old towels and blankets
- Food bowls
- Old baby toys
- Used teddies, which can all be used for bunnies
You can also get involved by helping us clean cages (during the week or weekends). You can also assist in setting up an educational session at your school or company. Lastly, if you can’t adopt, you can “virtually adopt”. This means that you can sponsor the cost of the bunny until the bunny gets adopted by humans.
From time to time, when we catch and sterilise large groups of bunnies, we need volunteers to actually help catch. This is not just randomly running after bunnies and grabbing them. It’s a coordinated exercise with one or two people leading. On these days, we need as many volunteers as we can get.
Your expertise is not only rescuing bunnies, but you also specialise in bonding bunnies. Can you tell me a bit more about that and what role The Strawberry Hotel plays in this?
The bonding process is tricky and can be daunting for the parents of the bunnies to witness. When a family brings in a bunny, it is best that they stay with us until they have selected and bonded to their new friend. Bunnies have their own opinions, so as much as we try to match certain personalities, only they will decide who they like and don’t like. It’s easier to bond when the parents aren’t watching and anticipating disaster.
We start off by introducing one bunny to your bunny at a time. We quickly get a feel for whether it will work or not, based on the reactions of both bunnies. If there is any fighting, we intervene. If we are not seeing enough positive behaviours, we try another bunny. Eventually your bunny will show us which new bunny friend he or she wants. We then go through the rest of the steps, including stress bonding, to make sure they have fallen in love by the time you fetch them.
We offer this as a free service if your bunny is booked into The Strawberry Hotel. You will only pay for your original bunny. It can take anything from 2 days to 2 months to bond a bunny. You will need to monitor them carefully afterwards and might have to continue some bonding steps. But, no stress, we will guide you on those too.
*Lauren’s note: The Strawberry Hotel is world-class. We’ve used their hotel services for Carrot and Clover before, when we went on holiday. You will get a tour of the facilities, your bunnies will be well looked after (they will receive immediate medical attention should they require any), and you will receive a free assessment of your bunnies post-hotel stay. An added bonus? They are incredibly well-priced and affordable!
Lastly, we met when Vic and I volunteered to help assist The Strawberry Foundation with catching/trapping stray bunnies from the Boskruin bunny colony in 2018, and in fact, that’s when we adopted Carrot, which was a classic foster fail. Can you tell me how the Boskruin bunny colony is doing now, and if you still have bunnies (Carrot’s brothers, sisters and cousins) up for adoption?
The Boskruin bunnies are in crisis. We have removed, sterilised and rehomed more than 160 Boskruin bunnies to date but it doesn’t feel like it has made a difference. I estimate there to be at least 800 bunnies in the Boskruin park and surrounding areas. Let’s say there are 400 females and 400 males. Let’s say 400 females deliver 5 babies each month (keep in mind they deliver every 28-32 days and they can deliver up to 15 kits). That means that 2000 babies are being born every month, 24000 babies per year. Yet, there are only a handful of teenagers to be seen. My assumption is that predator cats, dogs and birds are eating the babies.
We must keep in mind that bunnies are not wild. If they were wild, we could relax and say it’s all normal. But bunnies are bred exotic pets, not indigenous to South Africa, not part of any ecosystem. One could easily put them in the same class as a puppy or kitten. Would anyone be happy if 2000 kittens or puppies were killed by other animals each month?
In fact the bunnies are destroying the natural ecosystem of the park and the koppie.
At this point, we are no longer removing any bunnies unless visibly ill. But we are continuing with sterilising and releasing. I plead with the community not to dump their bunnies, as this happens almost daily. Encourage them not allow their dogs and cats to hunt in the park. We plead with the community to not let their children chase the bunnies. We plead with the community to read up on healthy bunny food and stop feeding them foods that could actually kill them.
What are your top 5 favourite things about bunnies?
- Bunnies are quiet. Unless they are stressed, in which case they’ll scream, I enjoy having pets that don’t make many sounds. (I am noise sensitive).
- Bunnies are all unique. I’ve worked with about 700 bunnies and as much as they are alike, they are all unique.
- Bunnies are beautiful. From their coat colours to the shapes of their faces and bodies. They are beautiful.
- Bunnies are misunderstood. And although I don’t like it, I like that I know quite a bit about them.
- Bunny moms are excellent moms, unless interfered with by humans.
There are so many ways to get involved with The Strawberry Foundation. You can foster a bunny, adopt a bunny if you can, volunteer your time, or simply make a donation. You can follow The Strawberry Foundation on Facebook for updates and the cutest photos of Jenny and her many bunnies – my favourite are the baby bunny “feeding time” videos that she regularly shares.