Rabbits were domesticated from the European rabbit as recently as the late Middle Ages (around 500 years ago). However, wild rabbits had been kept in walled gardens since the Roman era. This is likely to be the way wild rabbits spread throughout Europe. It was Medieval monks that truly domesticated rabbits. They were not permitted to eat any meat, except fish, during Lent and, strangely, young rabbits count as aquatic animals and are allowed!
Rabbits are social animals and should be kept in groups. Any hutch must include hidden areas where the rabbits can hide. This is especially important if you also have a pet dog or cat as these will be perceived as predators. Rabbits are famous for their rapid breeding and become sexually mature at between six and seven months and a female can become pregnant just 10 hours after giving birth.
Like the wild rabbit, domestic rabbits need to eat grass. This can be provided through use of a ‘run’ on a lawn or through good quality hay. Domestic rabbits are usually fed a rabbit mix (single colour and size pellets preferable as it ensures the rabbits get a balanced diet). Fresh fruit and vegetables can also supplement the diet.
The IUCN classifies the European rabbit as Near Threatened due to threats in their native countries. However, in other countries they are an invasive species and can cause significant ecological damage. The Environmental Agency ranks them as the most financially destructive invasive species in the UK! The main threat facing wild populations is disease, e.g myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease.
- Conservation Status: Globally Common
- Distribution: Worldwide
- Habitat: Grassland, Scrublands
- Diet: Grasses, Herbivore
- Height: 20 - 50cm
- Weight: 0.4 - 2kg
- Gestation: 30 days
- No. of young: 4 - 12
- Life Span: 8 - 12 years