Abandoned Rabbits: Discarded Like Garbage


Domestic rabbits living on the side of the road among garbage. Image taken by the author. 

I pick up some garbage to prevent the rabbits from trying to eat it, but my attempt is futile, as there is just too much.

Maybe the rabbits’ owners thought they were garbage too. Easy to throw away. Disposable. So they thought this was an appropriate place to dump them.

Or maybe they saw a couple wild cottontails and believed their domestic pet rabbits would survive just fine alongside their wild counterparts.

Maybe their child got bored of their Easter present, so they just sent the rabbit to live in the wild and fend for herself.

Whatever the reasoning, there are abandoned rabbit colonies popping up all over North America. Places like Las Vegas and Cannon Beach in the United States, and Richmond and Canmore in Canada have become popular dump sites. Pet rabbit abandonment is an issue from coast to coast to coast.

Unfortunately, rabbits are silent sufferers. The number of people that are aware of this issue is astonishingly low. People see them and simply see a cute bunny, they do not see a discarded pet.

It is not widely known among the general public that domestic rabbits are significantly different than wild rabbits. Most people do not understand the genetic and evolutionary differences between the two species. Domestic rabbits were not built for a life in the wild. They do not have the same instincts that their wild counterparts have to keep them alive.

An abandoned rabbit seen next to a rest area. Image credit Jennifer Pack, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Pet rabbits have been domesticated for centuries, and are a distinct species from wild rabbits. Researchers have even discovered striking differences in the brain structures of domestic and wild rabbits. While wild rabbits have a strong fight or flight response that helps them to evade predators, domestic rabbits are less fearful due to a reduced amygdala, the area of the brain involved in sensing fear. Domestic rabbits also have less white matter, which is vital in information processing.

These abandoned rabbits were once pets, but were soon forgotten after their owners “set them free” because they got bored of them or no longer had time for them. But these rabbits are not free. They live amongst garbage, get hit by cars, get eaten up by the many predators around, get sick, and die prematurely.

Be a voice for the silent sufferers

Abandoned Rabbits is a project dedicated to advocating for these silent sufferers. They track sightings of dumped domestic rabbits and their feral offspring and provide education to the public on the issue in an attempt to thwart rabbit abandonment.

If you see a dumped rabbit, please report it, but don’t stop there. After reporting it, reach out to your local rabbit rescue or animal control agency. Domestic rabbits need to be rescued, just as an abandoned dog or cat does. Fight for that rabbit and do not stop until they are safe.

Featured image: An abandoned rabbit seen in Oregon. Image credit A.F. Litt, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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