Catching the fleeting scenes of many splendored life with a camera.
'Look closely. The beautiful may be small' — Kant

25 May 2015

Rabbit suite. European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

The European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is native to south-western Europe (Spain and Portugal) and northwest Africa (Morocco and Algeria). The animal’s decline in its native range (caused by the diseases myxomatosis and rabbit calicivirus, as well as overhunting and habitat loss), has, in turn, caused the decline of its highly dependent predators, the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle.”

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) close-up. (© LightColourShade. All rights reserved)

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) with a grass leaf in its mouth. 
(© LightColourShade. All rights reserved)

Rabbits are social animals, living in medium-sized colonies known as warrens. Despite being most active around dawn and dusk, they are often seen during the day hiding in vegetation. They feed on grasses, leaves, buds, tree bark, roots, as well as lettuce, cabbage, root vegetables, and grains. To repel strangers rabbits mark their territories with dung hills — heaps of large pellets covered with secretions from the anal gland.

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) feeding.  (by-nc-nd)

Rabbits are an example of an animal treated as a food, pet, and pest, and therefore a victim of human cruelty. The European rabbit has been introduced with typical human irresponsibility as an exotic species into several environments, often with harmful results to vegetation and local wildlife. Twenty-four European rabbits were carelessly introduced to Australia in 1859 by dim-witted estate owner Thomas Austin in Victoria. Predictably, “they soon spread throughout the country due to the lack of natural predators, widespread farming producing an ideal habitat, and mild Australian winters allowing them to breed year-round”. As a result Australia's equivalent to the rabbit, the bilby, was quickly pushed out by the rabbits.

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) grazing on grass.  (by-nc-nd)

However, instead of punishing the careless farmer, humans came up with the most ruthless solution possible -- introduction of a virus, Myxomatosis cuniiculi in the 1950s (which, by the way, didn’t work in New Zealand, where the insect vectors necessary for spread of the disease weren’t available), thus sentencing an innocent animal to painful death. As much as I consider hunt an activity unbecoming civilised beings, putting the rabbits down with bullets would have been far more humane. Which death would you choose?

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in the grass
(© LightColourShade. All rights reserved)

The virus proved to be devastatingly effective, reducing the estimated rabbit population from 600 million to 100 million in two years. However, genetic resistance to myxomatosis was observed soon after the first release and most rabbits acquired partial immunity in the first two decades. Resistance has been increasing slowly since the 1970s, and the disease now only kills about 50% of infected rabbits. In an attempt to increase that number and without deviating from barbaric brutality of a sophisticated cannibal, a second virus (rabbit calicivirus) was introduced into the rabbit population in 1996.

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) portrait. 

The rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, which causes rabbit haemorrhagic disease (with all the pain and suffering this name implies), has been cleared as a safe form of biological control (a euphemism for cold-blooded slaughter) agent against the European rabbit in Australia (as safe as mad cow disease, avian flu, swine flu, etc). I’m afraid humans, too, are one step away from being seen by the powers that be as pest due to overpopulation and culled by similar methods to keep the numbers in check.

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) side view. (© LightColourShade. All rights reserved)

Myxomatosis can also infect pet rabbits of the same species. While today's remaining wild rabbits in Australia are largely immune to myxomatosis, the species has a status of Near Threatened in Portugal and Vulnerable in Spain. In 2008, the European Rabbit was re-classified by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as "Near Threatened" in its native range due to the extent of recent declines.

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) with a carrot.  (by-nc-nd)

Myxomatosis was introduced to France by the bacteriologist Dr. Paul Armand Delille, following his use of the virus to rid his private estate of rabbits in June 1952 (he inoculated two of the rabbits on his land). I can picture an evil stonehearted ape in a lab coat with a Nazi torturer’s diligence and sense of entitlement of a superior species written on his face infecting a defenceless creature. Within four months the virus had spread 50 km (and later to the rest of Europe), and by 1954, 90% of the wild rabbits in France were dead.
As is this one and for the same reason.

European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). (© LightColourShade. All rights reserved)

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