Letter: The plain truth about rabbits

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Sir: As rabbit numbers reach their peak at the end of the breeding season we are once again treated to the annual sensationalist scaremongering that the species is about to take over the universe, this time in an otherwise sensible article on rabbit ranching ("He's small, he's furry and he's only a few weeks old. Doesn't he look good enough to eat?" - Weekend, 15 July). Some gross inaccuracies need correcting:

1. Rabbits are lagomorphs not rodents.

2. Data from our 12-year monitoring of a natural colony in East Anglia shows that young does never breed until the year following their birth and the maximum average number of emergent offspring per doe recorded in a year is 10. In practice then, does are not "fertile at three months, producing eight kits every five weeks, all year round ... so that two rabbits can become a million in three years".

3. There is no evidence for a current "population surge" in rabbits.

4. Myxomatosis is not "now confined to a few pockets in Britain"; it recurs annually over much of the country and remains a major mortality factor for young of the year. Last year it killed over 90 per cent of young present in our long-term study population.

5. Any of the heady figures estimating total UK rabbit numbers (in your article, 37.5 million) are very much guesstimates and therefore of highly dubious usefulness.

The article also neglected to mention the important and much publicised "new" rabbit disease, viral haemorrhagic disease (first reported in UK wild rabbits in November 1994) which has decimated populations throughout continental Europe and could well do the same here. So please, check your facts with non-biased sources before perpetuating the rabbit myths.


Diana Bell

School of Biological Sciences

University of East Anglia


17 July