The Billings Police Department is keeping a closer eye on Stewart Park on the West End after a least one rabbit was hit with a blow dart.
Jon Thompson, Billings Parks and Recreation superintendent of parks, said Friday that a woman pulled aside a staff member to report the incident, which happened the week before.
"She witnessed some kids blow-darting a rabbit," he said. "We reported it to the police at the time."
Billings police Lt. Kevin Iffland said the department has advised officers to keep an extra eye out and drive through the park more often while on patrol.
Stewart Park sits on 54 acres in the area of 26th Street West and Central Avenue and houses baseball, softball and multi-use fields, along with a playground and a trail. It also shares a border with a city MET Transit bus transfer station.
Thompson said that parks and recreation staff are trying to humanely catch the rabbit and that it appears to be an isolated incident.
"We’ve been trying to capture it with the live trap," he said. "It doesn’t sound to me like it’s a persistent problem."
Bob Gibson, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman in Billings, said that rabbits are considered a non-game animal — unlike animals such as fowl and deer — and can be hunted year round without a license.
Anyone convicted could face misdemeanor charges that each carry punishments of as many as six months in the county jail and a maximum fine of $500, as well as a 30 day ban from city parks.
More serious animal cruelty charges could also stem from shooting the rabbits, Iffland said, although it wasn't clear if those charges would be likely.
Gibson said that the rabbit population in Billings, across the region and throughout much of the country has swelled and is nearing peak numbers. That means they're a common sight at parks and other areas around town.
"It’s a good rabbit year everywhere," he said. "They run on about a seven-year cycle, where their population goes up and down, up and down. Everybody’s seeing rabbits right now and there are a lot of them."
Iffland asked that anybody with information on the incident call the Billings Police Department at 657-8460.
Note: An earlier version of this story indicated that multiple rabbits had been hit with blow darts. It has been updated to reflect information provided by Billings Parks and Recreation.