Happy Lunar New Year to everyone, and especially to those born in the Year of the Rabbit! With the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac (60 if you track the elemental modifiers), the most recent Years of the Rabbit were in 2011 and 1999. Generally, the Year of the Rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity. People born in the Year of the Rabbit are thought to be vigilant, witty, and ingenious, but don’t let that go to their heads!
Rabbits themselves don’t always have a pleasant reputation though. Western pop-culture for example typically presents wild rabbits as pests, rapid reproducers, and a highly invasive family of animals. Frequent stories about rabbits digging up gardens, rapidly colonizing new environments, and essentially infesting island nations like Australia and New Zealand paint a troubling picture for rabbits everywhere they go. For a recent example, the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, had to battle a feral rabbit infestation in 2011, removing over 1,200 rabbits, and then had another introduction of invasive rabbits in 2021.
Despite the invasiveness of rabbits and the reputation they have developed, did you know that there are about 66 different types of Leporidae (rabbits, hares, cottontails, and jackrabbits) and that according to the IUCN 33% of this family rank from Near Threatened too Critically Endangered? Remember how I mentioned that rabbits invaded Australia and New Zealand? The rabbit responsible for that was the European Rabbit, which is native to Spain, Portugal, and southern France, and is now Endangered in that native range. The European Rabbit’s ability to take over large areas of land with few native predators doesn’t help them when the native ranges they inhabit are slowly developed into urban spaces.
The most commonly cited threats to rabbits according to the IUCN are the intentional hunting and trapping of rabbits and the loss of land to urbanization. Hunting rabbits as a threat isn’t surprising as many areas likely rely on them for food but, unfortunately, loss of land to urbanization is the most commonly cited hazard for all animals across the globe, with 18,650 currently studied species being affected. The negative stereotypes that affect rabbits, such as their invasiveness and destruction of gardens, takes a toll on the way they are treated.
With the Year of the Rabbit here and the positivity that comes with a fresh start, lets extend that positivity to rabbits we live with. If you live near rabbits, or any animals for that matter, that are struggling from a loss of habitat you can consider giving them a bit of space to use. Whether that space comes in the form of a few friendly plants they can munch on, a few less deterrents around the yard, or just spreading the word that a third of rabbit species are at risk of extinction. We share the land we in live on, and not everyone can speak up for themselves, so let's keep an eye out for the little guy.