There Goes Peter Cottontail

Photo by Joy BastLEISURE WORLD—Standing under the massive rotating globe near the high walls and barbed wire that surround this Seal Beach old-folks home, it's difficult to tell this is a community under siege. The guards checking autos at the gate are as tightlipped and cold-shouldered as always. Residents driving in look stern and unforgiving. To anyone passing by or detained at the front gate, the 533-acre Leisure World appears as it always has: safe, quiet and cranky.

Inside, it's a completely different story. Inside, the community's walls, checkpoints and round-the-clock auto patrols are useless against a new and insidious threat. Inside, the hamlet's 9,000 residents walk the grounds in fear.

At Leisure World, Bunny owns the night.

For the past two months, hundreds, perhaps thousands of cottontail rabbits have overrun the 28-year-old retirement community. With the rabbits' natural predators—foxes and Frenchmen—all but eradicated from the county, there's no longer any natural check on their population. Residents say the situation is deteriorating rapidly.

"We're being overrun with rabbits," said Jack Holloway, president of one of the autonomous Leisure World Mutuals. "The droppings are all over the place, and our residents, some of them in their 90s, are tracking it into their houses."

Intelligence reports indicate the rabbits are most heavily concentrated in the thick shrubs and bushes of the Leisure World Golf Course. But rabbits have been sighted far from this base area—hopping along the maze of greenbelts that crisscross the community. While rabbits don't dig miles of tunnels, more than enough dense shrubs line Leisure World's twisting streets to conceal their movement.

Making matters worse, the rabbits have begun avoiding the numerous poison traps that surround the golf course, attacking the lush grass and flowers instead. Considering that a mere 20 rabbits can consume the same amount of greenery as a sheep, Leisure World doesn't have much time.

"There have been rabbits at Leisure World since the place opened," said Paul Black, owner of California Agri-Control Inc., the extermination company tasked by the city of Seal Beach with controlling the rabbit population. "We've been doing the rabbit-control program for the past eight years. Everyone wants a few rabbits around, but the rabbits have exponentially increased over the past two to three months. Right now there are more rabbits than they know what to do with."

To counter the rabbit assaults, Black's company developed an operational plan currently under discussion by Seal Beach officials. According to Black, the counterattack should be swift and aggressive.

"Basically, we want to selectively remove the rabbits with low-velocity pellet guns," said Black. "We want to minimize the pesticides we use, which is why we'll use the pellet guns."

According to Black, a two-man squad would carry out search-and-destroy missions throughout the Leisure World brush over two nights, "taking out" whatever rabbits they sight. Black scoffed at reports that the rabbits adopted tactics similar to those of the Viet Cong.

"We've heard stories of people going out at 1 a.m. and seeing 75 rabbits at one time in full view," he said. "They just sit out in the open."

Should this plan fail to blunt the rabbits' onslaught, Leisure World will have little choice but to activate a militia to fight the rabbits house to house. Any such militia would probably begin by drafting all able-bodied 50-year-olds.

The most likely scenario is a prolonged and bloody campaign of street fighting, with the golf course declared a "free-fire zone" and scores of armed retirees blasting away at the rabbits day and night.

Rabbit-hunting analysts contacted by the Weekly say the best places to find rabbits are areas where brush meets up with any kind of open field. Shotguns would be best when Leisure World forces are in hot pursuit. When combined with cottontail-hunting beagles, shotgun-armed troopers advancing on the dogs' flanks can annihilate huge numbers of massed rabbits. Or they can just run them over with their cars.

For times when friendly forces ambush the rabbit while it's sitting still, snipers should use long-barreled .22-caliber rifles. The rifles should also be semiautomatic, to allow for quick second shots and because they look really bitchen.

But for sheer versatility, nothing beats Savage Arms' Model 24F (retailing for $400). This rifle offers two barrels—one a single-shot .22 and the other a 20-gauge shotgun.

Whether this much firepower will be necessary is still unknown. Black, who said he hopes to put his night-assault plan into action sometime later this month, is confident of success.

"This kind of thing happens throughout Southern California," he said. "This shouldn't be a problem."


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