This episode is where things start to get confusing..! I have to warn you – in a rabbit soapshow, there is plenty of sex and violence. Proceed at your own risk! 😜
Also, it’s going to sound as if we had no clue about rabbits at all and made a big mess of things. That’s because we did make a mess and we definitely didn’t have a clue. In our defence, we prepared ourselves as well as we possibly could by reading, reading and reading more – but certain things you can only learn from experience. It is kind of like having kids – nothing can prepare you for the reality of actually being a parent. I had a rabbit when I was a kid growing up in Holland, but she was by herself (with my brother’s guinea pig for company) and lived a calm, content, healthy life until she was 9 years old. Life with a rabbit colony is radically different.
Besides this, we had no one to learn from or to set us an example. I am regularly astonished by how little people here know about rabbits even after having kept them for years and years. All other pet zoos I have visited keep their rabbits all together in one big cage, to interact and breed freely. I can only assume those rabbits must live very short lives – they are born, grow up, reproduce again and again, fight or get sick and die. There is no sense of the rabbits being cherished pets, who should be cared for the way dogs are cared for. (I say dogs, because even cats are often seen as half-feral creatures who look after themselves). Neutering rabbits is unheard of. Even the vet looked at me as if I had grown two heads when I mentioned it.
That being said, let the rabbit soap continue! We had 10 buns by now. Mitzi’s two babies turned out to be both males: Peter Rabbit and Shugi. They were both giant, good-natured New Zealands, just like their parents.
We separated the males, because we thought we had enough rabbits for now. The three bucks were together in a cage, until they started fighting and we learned male buns do not hesitate to tear each other to shreds as soon as they reach sexual maturity. We had to keep them each in a separate cage. Shugi still has a ripped ear as a reminder of that epic fight.
So we had learned the hard way about the agression of rabbits towards each other. Now, we were about to find out about their incredible sex drive… And how they would do anything to get to each other!
Our rabbit pens are unlocked. We like the children (with their parents, yeah) to be able to interact with them, to stroke them, feed them and watch their behaviour. Also, the rabbits need human interaction if they are going to be seen as pets. They get shy pretty quickly if they aren’t touched and stroked regularly.
What happens though is that people sometimes don’t close the door well, and a rabbit slips out unnoticed. Over time, they learned how to perfect this technique! A male bun escapes and then goes to sit next to the door of the females’ pen. Another visitor comes by and thinks: oh look, an escaped rabbit! I’ll let him in to his cage. So the buck manages to infiltrate the does’ cage and then proceeds to mate with every girl in sight. This happens astonishingly quick. Sometimes people realise their mistake and hurriedly catch the stray rabbit – but the damage had been done.
In the months that followed, we kept finding surprises like this in the doe pens:
No matter how hard we tried to contain them, they kept managing to escape and get to each other. It was as if this was the only thing that was ever on their minds: reproduce, reproduce, reproduce.
Biologically, this makes a lot of sense. Rabbits are prey animals. They get eaten frequently. They need to have a lot of babies often and early in life to keep their numbers up. A rabbit doe can have a litter of babies every month, the whole year through. If you start with one pair and let them breed freely, within a year you could possibly end up with more than a hundred.
I once heard about someone who was forced to call the pest control people after her hamsters escaped and started breeding incontrollably and took over her house in a mouse-like infestation.
Fortunately, things weren’t quite that dire for us. But it was very clear that something had to be done. We located a vet familiar with rabbits and had our grown bucks neutered. We rehomed many of the young buns and slowly regained control. The first Great Bunny Baby Boom was finally finished. Phew!!
But our troubles weren’t over yet..! The next installment in Rabbit History will tell the harsh truth about the shocking episode known as the Great Pasteurella Epidemic… Skip it if you are fainthearted like me! 😮