Strolling down Santee Alley in LA’s Fashion District will reveal more than clothes for sale – there are bunnies. Marti Garcia saw three bunnies when she was shopping in the alley with colleagues last month, but noticed the little rabbits were in the blazing hot sun.
“All we kept thinking was, these things must be suffering of heat or dehydrated,” she said.
She bought the bunnies in hopes of rescuing them, but $2,000 in vet bills later, only one bunny survived: Master Yuki – “blessing” in Japanese. A month after his rescue, he still needed daily medication and drops for an eye infection.
The Get Garcia team took hidden cameras to Santee Alley to find out what was going on. The team found rabbits for sale, primarily on Maple Avenue between 11th and 12th streets. The animals were in small cages, being knocked to and fro, often with no protection from the scorching heat and without water.
Experts say the bunny traffickers mislead shoppers.
“They sell them as little miniature dwarf rabbits,” said Liejla Hadzimuratovic with rabbit rescue organization Bunny World Foundation. “They tell you they’re never going to grow.”
It turns out they are really infant bunnies too young to be weaned from their mothers. The bunnies often die days or even hours after they arrive in their new homes.
Without their mothers’ milk for nourishment, they die of starvation. If they manage to ingest some of the carrots or lettuce the traffickers tell people to feed them, they get diarrhea and die of dehydration.
Dr. Sari Kanfer is a veterinarian who specializes in rabbits. She says she sees plenty of bunnies bought in Santee Alley.
“The way you can tell that they are babies is their very infant-looking faces,” she said. “They are very round and compact.”
Kanfer calls the practice of selling underage bunnies cruel.
The Get Garcia Team’s hidden cameras repeatedly documented traffickers telling them the bunnies were four, five or six months old.
“They don’t grow anymore after 6 months,” one trafficker said.
NBC4’s Ana Garcia tried to speak to one of the most prolific traffickers, who fled when asked: “Why are you selling sick bunnies?”
Marti says she is still devastated by the two bunnies she tried to rescue, but was unable to save.
“It was very hard to watch them just kind of deteriorate and wait to die,” she said.
Still, bunnies are good house pets and, like dogs, can be taught to come when called and can learn tricks. For more information on the care they need and where to adopt one, visit the Bunny World Foundation or BunnyLuv.
If you have a tip for the Get Garcia Team, email GetGarcia@nbcuni.com or call 818-580-TIPS.