Is it their unassuming nature, their innocence, or sweet little nose that makes us fall in love with the rabbit. I just watched two large wild rabbits on my back hill take a luscious breakfast of newly green grasses. I am hoping they were part of the family of five that grew up in our wildflowers last summer. We watched these, then bunnies, grow fewer in number all summer. These two survived the winter eating birdseed and apples I threw out. I watched their tracks circle the house and hoped for the best. I was very glad to see them today and hope they will start families in the wildflowers this spring. If we are lucky we will see them with their mates doing the rabbit dance. The dance involves a chase, circling and the male jumping like an Olympic high jumper.
I have learned of a place….a rabbit lovers paradise. This place is Okunoshima (大久野島) Island, Japan. It is a small island in the Sea of Japan. Okunoshima is part of the Hiroshima Prefecture. Sadly this island has a dark past. During World War II Okunoshima was the site of a poison gas (mustard gas and tear gas) factory. The gas being manufactured was used in warfare with China. The project was top secret and one of the many horrors of WWII. In 1988 The Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum was opened on the island to teach all who come about poison gases and their effect on the world.
Today Okunoshima has a kinder gentler name, Usagi Jima, (うさぎ島) Rabbit Island. There are 700 feral rabbits roaming this island. How they got there no one is quite sure. The rabbits are somewhat tame and will come readily to humans. The mere rustling of a bag will bring hundreds your way. Tourists line up to be rushed by rabbits. People are encouraged to feed the rabbits and bring them water as well. Some of the soil and water on the island is toxic due to the gas production.
Usagi Jima is now part of Japan’s Inland Sea National Park system. It can only be reached only by ferry and boasts of campsites. walking trails, golf courses and hotels. It also means there is no hunting on the island. In addition cats and dogs are not allowed to accompany their humans on this trip. With few predators these rabbits can look forward to a long happy life and if you are lucky enough to visit they will give you a great deal of joy. One of my many dreams.
They are everywhere pure innocence and silence, the rabbit. They live in our front yard, in the wildflowers or under the pines. Their presence always brings a smile. They may also live in your house, classroom, and local library, among other places, as a companion.
Domestication came for the rabbit in the Middle Ages. It was the European Rabbit that gave it its start. Since then rabbits have been selectively bred resulting in breeds ranging from dwarf to giant rabbits.
In 1910 The American Rabbit Breeders Association was founded. The ARBA serves as experts in raising rabbits, defining breeds, developing uniform Standards of Perfection, registration and creating a judging system. Rabbit shows have been popular for hundreds of years.
Rabbit Breeds – The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA)
Rabbits are social animals and live in colonies or nests. The adult male is referred to as a buck, the female a doe and the juveniles kits, kittens, bunnies or pups. The digestive system of a rabbit is very complicated. They are hindgut fermenters. The rabbit’s food is basically digested three times, twice within the body and once more by eating the a soft pellet expelled from the body. Not what I call a meal but necessary for a healthy rabbit.
Sexual maturity comes at between four and five months for a small rabbit, a medium rabbit five to six months, and six to seven months for a large rabbit. They are prolific breeders, I believe due to the fact they are part of the food web for many predators including humans.
Today rabbits are used for food, fur and wool, research (blah!) and pets. For the purposes of this blog I would like to talk about the pet aspect. A major thesis through out my blogs is the incredible responsibility we assume when we take an animal into our environment. As can be seen from the pictures above rabbits are so adorable who would not want to share their life with one. Please be well-informed before you decide to share your home with a rabbit or any animal.
I am writing this blog at this time of year as rabbits are popular Easter gifts. Rabbit rescues report that the days, weeks and months after Easter are their highest collection times for abused, neglected and unwanted rabbits. What was once the Easter Bunny is now a lot of work and a nuisance. Explore a favorite rescue site: http://www.rabbitsanctuary.org/ Read their stories and if possible donate.
As I mentioned earlier rabbits are social animals and will bond with their owner slowly. They can be litter trained, learn simple voice commands, are curious and playful. The rabbit is not a good pet for small children as they are fragile and easily injured. They do not like loud noises or rapid motions. There are a variety of facial features that will be used to show displeasure along with a thumping and possibly biting.
Spaying and neutering, in my opinion is essential. The male will begin to spray and drive himself crazy circling feet….his love dance. The female will not soil the house and reproduce unnecessary kits. Your home must be rabbit proofed. Rabbits live in borrows and like to keep their tunnels root free. In your house that means they will gnaw wires they find bothersome or interesting. Gnawing things is essential as the rabbits teeth need to be worn down as they grow.
Your rabbit needs a den or private place to call its own. This could be a crate partially covered by a blanket to give your rabbit privacy when it desires it. Place its litter box and food in the den. Give the rabbit the ability to move in and out of its den freely. Rabbits will get along with other pets such as (some) cats and dogs.
As far as a rabbit’s diet goes it is best to consult a vet. They will recommend a pellet that contains nutrients, vitamins and other essentials for good rabbit health. Hay and or alfalfa are also recommended. Research other fruits and vegetables your rabbit might enjoy. As with all animals balance is the key to avoid illness and obesity.
As you may have guessed by now I have shared my classroom and home with a rabbit. One of my fourth grade students was saving every penny she had to buy a jet black rabbit from a local pet store. She was elated to have her pet for about a month. Once the newness wore off the rabbit sat in its pen in her bedroom creating a great odor. Needless to say her mother was not pleased about the odor or that the rabbit was living this boring life. I was asked if I would take it and I did. By the way, the odor problem ceased once the cage was cleaned properly and frequently.
Shadow, as the children called him, lived in the classroom during the week and at my home on weekends and during breaks. He had a pen in both locations. Shadow visited the vet and was neutered which calmed him down, he had been frantic around so many people. I bought the book, “Bunny Basics An Introduction to Rabbit Care” published by the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary. We read it as a class year after year.
Shadow was an amazing rabbit. He never wanted to leave the classroom as the hall was too noisy. He would hop on the sofa and then the shelf lined with windows that ran the length of the room. He enjoyed sitting in the sun and eating the geranium blossoms that bloomed prolifically in the pots lining the shelf. That was his area. My class had made tri-fold art projects and several students had not taken them home. I asked the children to take them home or Shadow will be upset that they were in his space. That day he ate the corners from one project and threw the others on the floor. The children roared with laughter.
There are so many stories, I just have to tell a few. As I was teaching math I noticed Shadow going under my student’s desks untying their sneakers. After about six shoes I could not stop laughing. I asked the students to look at their shoes….how proud they were to be the object of Shadow’s attention. If the students laid on the floor or sat on the couch to read Shadow would join them intently looking at their books. I told the kids if I could teach a rabbit to read I could teach them. They bought it.
Shadow’s morning routine was to lay in the sun on the carpet eating a carrot with a long green top. The bell would ring, the students would enter and Shadow would stretch out waiting to be adored and adored he was. He did not mind the crowd lying around him stroking and talking to him. We never picked up Shadow unless it was your Birthday, then you got one cuddle.
Shadow truly helped all the children calm down, learn, laugh, love and respect. Eventually a parent objected to the rabbit in the room and Shadow retired to our home to spend time with the cat and our grandson. One of my grandson’s favorite activities was to share banana chips with Shadow. I came stairs one morning and they were sitting together…one for you, one for me.
Shadow was our family member for ten and a half years. He passed away one hot summer. We had him cremated and have buried his ashes under a pine tree in our yard in Traverse City.
So…..long story short…..a pet rabbit is not an EASTER BUNNY but a full time job with expenses, responsibilities, and tugs at your heart. Please be informed before taking in a bunny and look to your Rabbit Rescues for adoption.