Celebrate Tahoe’s wild and domestic rabbits | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Celebrate Tahoe’s wild and domestic rabbits

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Rabbits seem to be everywhere in Tahoe right now. Looking like lost juveniles, they scurry across parking lots and yards, and feast in local gardens, much to the dismay of local gardeners. Their predators are many. Rapid rabbit multiplication is part of the natural answer to survival of the species. The Tahoe Institute for Natural Science website states that Tahoe has three species of regularly occurring rabbits and hares. First, TINS is studying the White-tailed Jackrabbits which, according to their research, is a species that has not been formally documented in the region in many decades. The increasingly visible Nuttall’s Cottontails (Sylvilagus nuttallii) will be studied in time, along with Tahoe’s Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus).

According to the National Geographic website, the Cottontail Rabbits in our neighborhoods seek out habitat on the fringes of open spaces such as fields, meadows and farms, and readily adapt to other areas, including human habitats. The House Rabbit Society, advocating for both wild and domestic pet rabbits, cautions that many people mean well when they contact HRS after discovering an “abandoned” nest of wild rabbits. However, the care that people attempt to provide can be illegal, unnecessary and potentially harmful. The best thing to do is put the bunny back where found, or if it is injured, contact a wildlife rescue group like Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

Pet rabbits originally were domesticated from the wild rabbit species of Europe and North Africa, Oryctolagus Cuniculus. They live in herds and reside in rabbitries. House rabbits suffer from overpopulation while some wild species face extinction. The American Rabbit Breeders Association recognizes more than 50 individual breeds and variations of pedigree bunnies. They range in size from less than a pound to over 20 pounds. Some, like the Rex, have short velvet fur and some, like the Angora, have long wooly locks. All bunnies are complex creatures using intricate signal communication. They may hum or buzz or growl or chirp or thump in concert with their body language.

Domestic rabbits breed early and often unless spayed or neutered. As with cats and dogs, sterilized rabbits live longer, protected from some cancers while spraying and aggressive behavior can be eliminated. Even for professionals it is difficult to “sex” a young bunny. They often multiply before owners realize they have a breeding pair.

As prey animals bunny instinct is to react in fear to loud noises, quick movement, or being held off the ground for long periods. House bunnies are handled at an early age to earn trust. Particular breeds are known to be docile and calm. However, no pet rabbit should ever be left alone around young children.

Bunnies are lagomorphs who live alone or in bonded pairs or groups in homes all over the world. It’s estimated that there are over 6 million house rabbits in America. Their cuteness means that they are prone to being purchased on a whim. All types and sizes can be found at animal shelters and rabbit rescue groups like the House Rabbit Society and Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter in Santa Barbara. Rabbits are self-cleaning and rarely need more than a swipe with a damp cloth if they become soiled. They quickly learn to use a litter box. Pet rabbits live five to 12 years when cared for properly. Bunnies can learn tricks and agility routines.

July is Adopt a Rescue Rabbit Month. There’s a lot of good information about how to become a loving bunny buddy and enjoy unique rabbit relationship rewards on the House Rabbit Society website.

— Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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