Domestic rabbits living wild
To know the domestic bunnies living wild in your neighbourhood, is to love them.
The colonies of domestic rabbits living wild among us were bred to be pets. They can’t fend for themselves. These rabbits need our help. If we are informed about their breed and circumstances, we will help them survive in an unforgiving environment.
“Wild domestic rabbits are dumped pets and their offspring.”
Supposed-to-be-tame bunnies live wild among us. We see them in our neighbourhood parks, on pavements and even in gardens. We might think they look cute, but they don’t belong there. They aren’t there out of choice. And they are enduring a life of suffering.
These are so-called domesticated or house rabbits. They should be someone’s pets. But they were either dumped outside or supposedly “set free” by their owners. Some are the offspring of the dumped ones.
Domesticated bunnies are a breed that should be cared for. They can’t survive on their own in the open. They multiply rapidly and suffer ill health, often leading to their early death.
These bunnies need our kindness and help.
I know this too well. There are domestic rabbits in my neighbourhood in the north of Johannesburg. They live where we do, in gardens and parks, on grassy pavements.
Many also live in the complex of flats where I do. Some are in my little garden.
I am painfully aware that most people don’t do anything, or not enough, to help these defenseless beings.
We toss them the occasional carrot. Give them water in plastic containers that easily overturn. Take our children to see them, oohing and aah-ing because they are so cute. Then we go home, leaving the rabbits to their misery. Or we complain about the bunnies living in a park or on the streets where we walk our dogs.
Here is what we can do to help these gentle, overly cutesy, silently hopping, vulnerable beings.
Learn about them
“People are uneducated about rabbits,” says Meahni Pieterse, founder and manager of the Johannesburg rabbit rescue group Berario Bunnies.
This rabbit charity catches rabbits all over the city and has them sterilised. Then they either find homes for them or return them to where they were found.
“Almost everybody thinks domestic bunnies are wild animals and can live on their own,” Meahni continues. “But they were bred in Europe as exotic pets. They can’t fend for themselves.
“Rabbits drink as much water as a dog and needs to eat and nibble constantly. They also need shelter.
“Because people don’t know this, they dump their unwanted bunnies outside, usually in existing rabbit colonies. But they should find a new home for them or take them to the SPCA.”
If you dump your bunny, it will live in an unfriendly world. “Bunnies are territorial,” Meahni says. “They will chase newcomers away and fight with them.”
There are so many domesticated bunnies living wild that it is impossible to find homes for them. This is why one should rather adopt a bunny than buy one in a shop or from breeders.
“We catch groups of bunnies all over Johannesburg almost every weekend,” Meahni says. “Requests for it never stops. There is even a waiting list for catching.”
According to Meahni there are colonies of domestic rabbits living wild all over Johannesburg. “There are also literally thousands of them in the country, in every town and province.”
She explains: “Females can get pregnant at three months. They carry their babies for a month. After giving birth, they fall pregnant immediately again. This happens virtually until they die. Up to 15 bunnies are born in a litter.”
Bunny charity groups step in to help, but few catch the bunnies. Some only do homing. “The catching process might take hours and require 10 to 20 volunteers,” Meahni tells us.
Meahni, an IT specialist, became involved in bunny rescue when she caught bunnies at a recreation centre near her house in 2018. “There were about 50 of them, and after regular sterilising, the colony now has only 18 rabbits,” she says.
All of these rabbits are domesticated. It is a breed that should be cared for. They can’t survive in the open. They multiply and suffer, they die early.
To be kind and caring, we must help them.
It is impossible to be involved with bunnies and not get emotionally attached.
“Rabbits make excellent pets,” Meahni says. “They are intelligent, have a good sense of direction, know their names and come when you call them.
“I often keep rescued rabbits at my house until they can be homed. That can take up to 18 months. There are baby bunnies in playpens in my house. Bigger rabbits live in camps.
“I love animals so much that I don’t eat meat.”
If you want to build a shelter for bunnies, keep it simple
How to build a shelter for homeless bunnies:
- If you provide a dog kennel, give it a second opening at the back.
- Bunnies often don’t shelter in expensive hutches, but prefer living underneath them.
- To make a shelter with a sheet of corrugated iron and a few bricks: Put the corrugated iron sheet on bricks on the ground, just high enough so that they can crawl underneath it. Do it preferably on soil and against a slope, to allow rain water to run away from it. Put a few bricks on top to secure the sheet.
- To make a pallet shelter: Use the planks from an unused pallet to cover the openings between the slats of a pallet. Put the pallet against a slope on preferably soil. If needed, place bricks underneath to lift it off the ground. And if necessary, secure it with bricks.
Did you know? Bunnies give a high leap, known as a binky, when they are happy. They like to play in tunnels, chew on sticks and roll balls.
- Unwanted domestic bunnies are the third most dumped animals after cats and dogs.
- Bunnies are mostly silent. They cry when they are hurt and sometimes grunt, but mostly they don’t voice their misery. The bunny approaching you in the park, begging for food and looking so very cuddly, has an unhappy life. It doesn’t tell you about it because it can’t.
- Rabbits can live for 10 to 12 years. In the wild their life expectancy is around two to three years, depending if they are being fed.
- Domesticated bunnies are easy prey for predators like cats, dogs and birds. Unlike wild rabbits their colours don’t camouflage them. They don’t have the instinct of a wild rabbit to evade predators. They are defenseless and vulnerable.
The bunnies in my garden
“They are fluffy and cute, but I can’t cuddle them. They are too wild to touch.”
There are generations of domestic rabbits roaming wild where I live, at the foot of a hill in Johannesburg. A few of these wild, yet domesticated, bunnies spend most of their time in my garden.
Two young does have adopted me as their main food supplier. One is black-and-russet, the other light grey, the inside of her ears shell pink. They are beautiful, with long lashes and delicate feet.
These two ladies are almost tame. They sometimes allow me to touch them. Or they follow me, getting under my feet. When I call them for food they come running.
In the early morning the two does are in front of my glass front door, searching for me, demanding breakfast. They want oats. But they aren’t too fussy, they will eat most fruit and vegetables. Apple, carrot and cabbage are favourites. I can’t give enough.
The does often sit in silence on the small blue mat just inside my flat, grooming themselves with gentle movements. Or they venture deeper into my home, inspecting unknown universes behind furniture.
Midday finds them dozing in the shade of plants flat on their bellies, feet stretched out.
There are males around them, but they are fickle. They come and go, dominate the does, chase away competition, snatch food. The females are mostly pregnant. But they are uncommonly independent, there is no sign of a lifelong bond with a male yet.
These bunnies don’t have names. At night they disappear to sleep somewhere, maybe in hollows under trees or on the lawn.
One day an unexpected friend joins them. It is another young grey rabbit, but this one looks different. Her body is a ball of fluff, only her head and ears strangely smooth. She is a sweetie, her eyes are black and gentle. She also comes into my flat, at home as though she has always been my bunny.
I named this one. She is Woolly.
Woolly is an angora. These rabbits are prized for their soft, fine wool, that is used in winter clothing.
Dry leaves and grass stick to Woolly’s coat. Sometimes I manage to approach her and she allows me to gently pick off the dirt. Her fur is silky, soft as candy floss. But I can feel the hard clumps where her fur is matted against her skin.
Her fur reminds me of a brown angora pullover I had years ago. I am embarrassed and horrified that I once wore angora.
How can anyone wear angora? How could I? The process to get fur from angoras is horribly painful. How can anyone do to Woolly, or to a Woolly, what is done to angoras to obtain their wool for a pullover, scarf or beret?
The rabbit charity Berario Bunnies collected Woolly as soon as they heard about her. If the fur of angora rabbits isn’t brushed three times a week, it mats and cause sores. Woolly’s fur was so matted that it had to be shaved off against her skin.
Woolly now has a new home and new angora friends. I miss her gentle, soothing company, but she is taken care of. She now can have a long and happy life, her fur always brushed silky-smooth.
Berario Bunnies caught as many of the other bunnies in the complex as was possible in one operation. They were sterilised and given a notch in the ear as a means of identifying sterilised bunnies. Then they were brought back.
Rabbits that evaded the catching or were too young to be sterilised, will be caught in stages. All except the angoras will be brought back. It will probably take a few years to have the whole colony sterilised. The number of rabbits will gradually get smaller.
Angora isn’t vegan
Like most products sourced from animals, angora is obtained through merciless pain and cruelty.
We know this because PETA did an undercover investigation on a dozen of these farms in China and released a shocking video about it.
According to PETA’s research, angora rabbits are first sheared or plucked when they are just eight weeks old and thereafter every three months. The fur is plucked out of their bleeding bodies while they scream in pain and terror.
For shearing, their feet are tightly bound and then their writhing, terrified bodies are hung in the air or stretched across boards. As they struggle in vain to escape, they are hurt even more by the sharp cutting tools.
After their ordeal, the bunnies lie motionless, stunned and in shock in their tiny, filthy cages. Some seem unable to move.
60% of the bunnies die after only one to two years. If they survive for another few years, they are hung upside down, their throats are slit and their bodies are sold for meat.
Since PETA uncovered the cruelty of angora farming in China in 2013, more than 300 companies globally have banned the use of angora. Early this year the French fashion house American Vintage joined companies such as Guess and Tommy Hilfiger that have diched angora.
“Consumer demand drives the heartless angora industry,” PETA says. “As long as shoppers in the West continue to buy angora hats, socks, scarves and other items, farmers will continue to profit from torturing rabbits. Ninety percent of the world’s angora comes from China, where there are no penalties for the abuse of animals on farms and no standards to regulate the treatment of the animals.
“The best thing you can do to help rabbits is to refuse to buy angora and ask your family and friends to do the same.”