Letting Rabbits Loose
by Mary Huey
Our domestic companion rabbits are the result of selective breeding programs and not the result of natural selection where only the fittest, fastest and smartest survive. They are dependent on their caretakers for food, water, and safety.
Some people make the choice to release their rabbit in a local field or park or just let him wander out of their yard never to see him again. The sad truth is that their rabbit is unprepared to "fend for himself" and may be injured or killed by a predator. Because the rabbit and his parents were raised in confinement they have not learned about dangers in the wild. He will not initially have the quick reactions necessary to make a rapid escape. After all, this is not how it was in confinement!
Our domestic rabbits are handicapped in other ways. Their light coloring makes them very visible and they are easy pickings for a predatory dog, cat, hawk, owl, raccoon, coyote, fox or human. A loose rabbit can be hit and killed by a car. Many domestic rabbits do not know to get in out of the rain, stay dry and avoid getting chilled. Cold temperatures combined with rain can chill the rabbit and lead to pneumonia and death.
Because our domestic rabbits have adapted to a captive feeding schedule they often don't feed between dusk and dawn and hide during the day as wild rabbits do. They have not developed the lightning speed reactions they need to make a hasty escape from a predator.
If a male/female pair of rabbits live long enough to have a litter then a population explosion may occur. Eventually the increased population could force the rabbits to seek more territory. They may invade surrounding neighborhoods, eating prized garden plants and irritating people to the point of poisoning or shooting the rabbits.
A domestic rabbit turned loose may survive for a short time but will probably eventually fall prey to injury and/or illness. His life might not end peacefully and he might experience considerable suffering in the process. Of course, the former owner will be long gone and will not have to witness this sad ending.
If you or someone you know can not keep their rabbit, please make a humane choice and try to find him a new home. Rabbit Advocates are available to give needed support. Call 503-617-1625 (rabbit help line) or check our web site at http://www.adoptarabbit.org.