Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rabbits are so human... or is it the other way round?

"The Private Life of the Rabbit" by R.M. Lockley is a fascinating read for anyone wanting to truly understand rabbits.  This is the book which provided Richard Adams with background material for Watership Down.  From 1954 to 1959 Mr Lockley carried out a life-history study of the rabbit on his estate in Pembrokeshire, watching colonies of rabbits and keeping a diary of their activities.  The book is no longer in print but is usually available secondhand on Amazon

It's a bit of a heavy read in places, but what I learned from this book has stuck with me over the years, particularly the last two paragraphs which I'll share with you now; this bit always makes me smile.

"Rabbits have no marriage laws as such, but in their sexual relations buck and doe are tied to each other by a code of behaviour closely resembling that of man.  Young rabbits play together innocently, like children, at first; then comes an adolescent period, with indiscriminate sexual pursuits without fertile mating – closely resembling those of young men and women.  The young couple eventually settle in a burrow, often a poor one, but they will improve it, or move to a better one as their social standing in the community rises.  The young woman is ‘married’ now, the young doe is a ‘queen’.  Under fair conditions, without severe pressures due to predators, over-population, or food shortage, the couple – human or rabbit – may remain united for the rest of their lives by their territorial allegiance to a home.
Bailey paying homage to his 'queen', Flicka

If there is a surplus female or two around, the queen doe will not actively prevent the king having sexual relations with her or them, provided these secondary females do not enter her home, and she will only attack them if they obstruct her path when grazing near by; married man has a similar relationship, albeit more furtive and clandestine, if he takes a ‘mistress’.  But neither man nor buck will usually allow another male to approach his female sexually, if he can prevent it.  He will fight for the sanctity of home, where the female provides main bonds tying the male to a husbandly existence – warm, dry quarters and sexual satisfaction.  In man, family ‘togetherness’ is also important, and it is tolerated by the father rabbit in much the same degree.  Provided the young ones are docile they are welcome to stay at home and be treated affectionately as subordinate beings.

Rabbits are so human.  Or is it the other way round – humans are so rabbit?" 

Excerpt from "The Private Life of the Rabbit" by R.M. Lockley

Don't try this at home!  Domestic rabbits should of course always be neutered or spayed at the earliest opportunity and bonding groups of rabbits is much more difficult than bonding a pair.  But if solitary confinement is considered torture for humans, it is undoubtedly torture for rabbits also.  Rabbits should always have companionship or be brought into the home as part of the family.

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