Stray Rabbits

It still amazes us that people abandon lovely pet rabbits in the wild, believing that they will live off the land,” says Mary Morrison after repeated calls to rescue domestic rabbits “set free” in New Mexico. Abandoned rabbits are expected to survive in rural and urban areas where even dogs or cats would have trouble existing. And reports of stray rabbits are increasing.

But how do you know if the rabbit you see is a stray or even domestic? Here are some guidelines. Appearance: The obvious domestic stray is a lop-ear, albino, or spotted individual. Less obvious in appearance is a domestic rabbit with agouti coloring. Agouti is the natural coloring of many small animal species, including cottontails and jackrabbits. If appearance doesn’t tell you, observe the rabbit’s behavior. Although many house rabbits don’t enjoy being held, surprisingly many stray rabbits solicit interaction, rescue, and handling by human passers-by. (If you do pick up a stray, be prepared to hug the rabbit safely to you if he suddenly changes his mind.) If a stray is following you or hanging out near your back steps, you can bet it’s not a cottontail. But is the rabbit abandoned, or could he have escaped?

To understand how helpless a domestic rabbit is when “set free,” observe your house rabbit’s behavior. When faced with a strange environment, she will proceed cautiously from “home base.” Frequent retreats are made, to memorize the route. Why? If danger appears, home base can be achieved in a flash. A wild rabbit’s life would depend on it.

A domestic rabbit turned loose has no home base, and little time to find one before dark and predators set in. A wild rabbit would have a lifetime of famil-iarity with the area, plus reflexes and instincts domestic rabbits lack. Reluctance to leave “home base” is why you can figure most stray domestics have not willingly left home. Unless from a nearby home, they are displaced.

The bottom line is, any loose domestic rabbit you encounter needs your help. For written information on catching stray rabbits, contact your local HRS chapter.

Holly O’Meara

House Rabbit Journal Volume III, Number 7, Spring 1996