There’s been a recent battle in the rabbit world. People seem to be abandoning their pet rabbits, leaving them no way to survive. Volunteers from animal shelters were getting close to finding a solution for the abandoned animals by building them a habitat in Vegas, but then they found something totally unexpected. Dozens of bunny rabbits were found dead outside a children’s psychiatric facility in Vegas. Volunteers were stunned and completely thrown off. Who would do this and why?

Years ago, staff members at Desert Willow Treatment Center came up with a creative and sweet way to brighten up the patients days. They released two pet rabbits in the facility for the kids to care for and play with.

Taking care of pets is known to be a motivator and anxiety reducer in certain cases. Dogs are usually the go-to comfort animal, but these staff members decided to go for a smaller animal that is easy to take care of. The rabbits ended up mating and having children. Soon after, their offspring had offspring of their own! Once neighbors got word of the family of therapy rabbits, they started adding their unwanted pets to the mix. Now around 800-1000 rabbits are roaming the facilities. Desert Willow Treatment Center welcomes dedicated volunteers to care for the rabbits as well as find them new homes. They began building a sanctuary to large enough to house hundreds of rabbits, and are almost done raising enough money to finish it.

One Sunday, the volunteers showed up to the sanctuary with water for the rabbits. To them, it was just another Sunday, but what they found when they got there was anything but typical. Over 30 rabbits were spread out, dead, on the ground. At first, they checked for any signs of injury but found nothing. This leads them to believe that the rabbits were poisoned. Stacy Taylor is the woman in charge of the rescue-group Bunnies Matter. She filmed the scene with unsteady hands and posted the video online. “We are finding and collecting the dead bodies of our friends,” she said with a shaky voice.

The volunteers collected 58 rabbits, over 100 remain in the sanctuary, and it’s unclear where the rest went. After the rabbit rescue, a volunteer stayed by the dumping site to keep an eye out for any potential suspects behind this poisoning. The volunteer noticed a man drive up to the sanctuary, drop off a large amount of lettuce, and quickly drive away. The rabbits ran to the food and began to eat it. That’s when it all added up, the lettuce was poisoned. After some speculation, they realized that this lettuce was prayed with antifreeze which is a deathly toxin. Someone wanted these rabbits gone, but why?

A few days before the rabbits were poisoned, Nevada state officials stuck signs around the property that warned against the public health risk that the rabbit population posed. The rescue group suspected that the state purposely poisoned the rabbits. Public information officer at Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, Karla Delgado assured them that they had nothing to do with the poisoning. In fact, she only heard about it from social media.

Delgado explained that the signs were placed to warn young children and the elderly about the potential diseases one can get from rabbits. Rabbits and their habitats can carry salmonella, rabies, and tularemia. The risks are necessary for people to consider before coming in contact with the animals. Tina Drouin runs the Vegas Bunny Rescue; she says that her veterinarian rescued hundreds of rabbits and has yet to find one with a disease.

Delgado took this offense seriously and launched an investigation to stop future poisonings and find the man who did this. The Health Department of Human Services will work with rabbit rescue groups to find a solution. Drouin, however, is very skeptical of the department. She notes in the week before the incident; the department stated that “providing food and water to the feral rabbits must cease immediately.” Drouin believes they do not have the rabbit’s best interest in mind; they just want them gone! “Essentially, they just want these rabbits to starve,” she says.

For now, only 120 rabbits have been spotted around the dumpsite since the poisoning. It’s unknown what happened to the rest. The rescuers hope that the missing number of rabbits is due to the help of kind-hearted people who came to capture and rescue the rabbits on their own terms. They fear that the prisoners came back to “finish the job.” Groups of volunteers arrived at the site to help clean and rescue. The groups rely solely on donations. They’re searching for good homes for these rabbits in the meantime. However, once they get past this mess, the search for the people behind this crime is on, and The Health Department will be first on the radar.