In the past, much of the rabbit meat and fur in Australia came from wild rabbits. In 1990, for example, 2.7 million rabbits were caught and killed. The calici-virus was introduced in an attempt to control the rabbit population in 1996. By 2000, the number of rabbits captured was down to just 100,000. [i] Rabbit meat is much more scarce now, and the Australian rabbit farming industry has begun. [ii], [iii]
Rabbits raised for their meat are known as ‘growing’ rabbits; those raised for breeding purposes are ‘breeder’ rabbits. These animals are also bred for their fur. Rabbit fur is sold in many shops in Australia and most of it comes from China, where no animal welfare laws exist and rabbits are bred specifically for their fur, not meat. [iv] Angora fur is more expensive and 90% of it is produced in China. In 2013, undercover investigators visited ten fur farms and obtained footage of Angora rabbits having chunks of their fur torn from their bodies while they were still alive. [v]
I have conducted several investigations for PETA over the past few years, seeing animals on fur farms have their necks broken and some being skinned alive at markets. I thought I had seen it all and become hardened. But the screaming of the rabbits horrified me. –undercover investigator [vi]
In response to the video, many of Australia’s major retailers and about two dozen designers decided to boycott the use of Angora in their clothing lines. [vii]
The well-known Australian Akubra hat requires the skins of about twelve rabbits;. The brand became famous when wild rabbits were more common; now that far fewer exist, the company has begun to import fur from other countries, such as the Ukraine. [viii]
The reality for rabbits
Rabbits are housed in sheds of between 500 to 1,000 for breeding females or 10,000 to 20,000 for growing rabbits. [ix]
The majority of rabbits raised for meat are caged in groups of eight or more. They are each confined to a space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. [x]
Breeding rabbits are usually individually caged, denying them the opportunity for social interaction. This can lead to abnormal behaviours such as over grooming, cage gnawing and even aggression by these naturally placid animals.
Disease and ailments
The caged systems tend to have meshed flooring that often cause ulcerations, abscesses and infections to the pads and feet of rabbits, particularly those of breeding rabbits, who are caged for longer periods of time. [xi]
These overcrowded living conditions can lead to bone disorders, aggression and fighting – such as fur plucking and ear biting. These are uncommon behaviours for these gentle creatures in their natural environments.
Housed in stressful and often unhygienic environments, rabbits are vulnerable to infections and disease. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), mortality rates for intensively reared rabbits are considerably higher than in other farmed animal species, sometimes as high as 25-30%. [xii]
Rabbits are so susceptible to disease when kept in intensive conditions that in France the rabbit farming industry use over seven times more antibiotics per kilogram of meat compared to poultry and over five times more than used in pig meat. [xiii]
Does and kits
Does (female rabbits) are pregnant for approximately one month and produce a litter of kits (the young of a rabbit) between five and seven times a year. Each litter contains, on average, nine kits.
Like all female animals used for breeding, a doe’s body becomes exhausted from the strain of repeated pregnancies. This constant reproduction cycle leads to a loss of body condition and she is usually killed after three years.
|Animal||Natural lifespan (on average)||Age at which they are typically killed|
|Doe (breeding rabbit)||9 years||3 years|
Manipulation and mutilations
- Artificial insemination
To increase productivity, artificial insemination is commonly used on rabbit farms. Does are held on their backs through the process, causing high levels of stress and frequent injury and infections.
Like other farmed animals, many rabbits will have their ears tattooed for identification purposes or they may have a ring placed around their legs.
Witness the tattooing procedure taking place in an undercover investigation by Animal Equality (shown at 2 mins):
- Tooth trimming
Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their lives. In the wild, rabbits have the opportunity to graze on a variety of plants that naturally wear down their teeth. In captivity, however, this is often not the case and many rabbits will suffer with overgrown teeth, leading to damaged lips and eating and drinking problems.
Tooth trimming may be carried out, but this procedure causes severe pain and stress to these sensitive animals.
- Toenail clipping
Like their teeth, rabbits’ toenails continue to grow and require regular exercise to avoid overgrowth. Rabbits breed for the meat industry will need their toenails trimmed to prevent toe damage. Overgrowing nails can cause painful injuries when rabbits get these caught on the wire meshing of their cages.
Many farmed rabbits, if not killed on the farm, will be transported in trucks to the abattoir. The Moral Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals—which is voluntary—suggests that rabbits not be transported for more than 24 hours without access to food and water. [xiv] It is common for rabbits to die on their way to slaughter, with death rates between 7-8% being reported. [xv]
During the transport process, rabbits must endure the stress of being handled. The code of recommendations for the welfare of animals during transport states that rabbits commonly ‘suffer fatal back injuries from incorrect handling or falling’. [xvi]
|Animal||Natural lifespan (on average)||Age at which they are typically killed|
|Rabbits||9 years||3 – 4 months|
The slaughter methods may vary slightly, depending on the breed and type of rabbit, but typically rabbits are slaughtered by electric stunning followed by neck cutting. Other slaughter methods include a blow to the head or neck dislocation followed by decapitation.
Rabbits are the fourth most farmed animal in the world, and the second in Europe. [xvi] Rabbit farming is a comparatively small industry in Australia. [xviii]
In 2012, 300 rabbits were rescued from a factory farm in Tasmania:
Intelligence and character
Rabbits are natural herbivores, feeding on grass and wild pasture. They are very sociable animals who live in groups within their burrows or warrens. These groups can be as large as fifty individuals and are organised into small family units. [xix] Their homes can extend over areas as large as two acres. [xx]
As prey animals, rabbits are often silent, using body language as their main method of communication. If they sense danger, rabbits will stomp their powerful hind legs as a warning to other members of the warren. They are also capable of reaching speeds of up to 45mph.
Rabbits have a very broad field of vision, but they have a blind spot directly in front of them, so they rely heavily upon smell and sound. Their sense of smell is far greater than a human’s and they are capable of hearing sounds up to one mile away.
Rabbits are able to respond to human communication, and they understand what is being said in a similar way to dogs. [xxi] They can recognise the tones of a familiar voice and even respond to their name being called.
Rabbits are wonderful companion animals, but contrary to popular belief, they are not ‘starter pets’; in fact, they are as high maintenance as dogs and cats and require lots of space and attention. Keeping rabbits as pets is legal in all Australian states other than Queensland. Even as pets, however, they are not legally protected. The government classes them as ‘feral’ unless they are microchipped (a fairly uncommon procedure) and current legislation and city councils are inadequate. Local groups work to combat laws based on poor science: for example, rabbits are classified as ‘rodents’ and are expected to live outside, despite the fact that pet rabbits are far safer indoors. (A rabbit who lives outside in a hutch has an expected lifespan of three to four years; an indoor rabbit can live to be ten.) As a result of poor legislation, 80 to 90% of all rabbits abandoned in shelters are killed. [xxii]
Undercover investigation of Chinese Angora rabbit farms (PETA):
Undercover investigation of Chinese rabbit fur farms (PETA):
Animal Equality’s Undercover Investigation of EU rabbit farms linked to UK –
Compassion In World Farming’s Undercover Investigation of EU rabbit farms – http://www.ciwf.org.uk/our-campaigns/investigations/rabbit-investigation/?gclid=CLuIvvKrtr8CFYzKtAodsysA7Q
[i] Murphy, Sean (reporter), 12 April 2009. ‘Bunny Business’. ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2008/s2538191.htm [Accessed 1 December 2014]
[ii] Edwards, Alyse, 20 April 2014. ‘Rabbit meat disappearing from consumers’ tables as farmers struggle with spiralling costs’. ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-21/rabbit-meat-disappearing-from-australian-tables/5400586 [Accessed 1 December 2014]
[iii] Light, Deborah, 17 February 2011. ‘Rabbits: From Pest to Plate’. Australian Geographic. Available at: http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2011/02/rabbits-from-pest-to-plate/
[iv] RSPCA Australia Knowledgebase, 8 December 2010. ‘What is RSPCA Australia’s view on killing animals for their fur?’ Available at: http://kb.rspca.org.au/what-is-rspca-australias-view-on-killing-animals-for-their-fur_226.html [Accessed 1 December 2014]
[v] Chen, Andrea, 20 December 2013. ‘Video of Chinese farmers ripping fur off live rabbits damages angora trade’. South China Morning Post. Available at: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/fashion-watches/article/1385942/video-chinese-farmers-ripping-fur-live-rabbits-damages [Accessed 1 December 2014]
[vii] PETA Australia, ‘Australian Fashion Retailers and Designers Ditch Vile Angora’. Available at: http://www.peta.org.au/the-issues/wear/australian-fashion-designers-ditch-vile-angora/ [Accessed 1 December 2014]
[viii] Edwards, Alyse, 25 May 2014. ‘Rabbit shortage forces Akubra to look offshore for raw hat materials’. ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-24/rabbit-shortage-forces-akubra-to-look-offshore-for-raw-materials/5474918 [Accessed 1 December 2014]
[ix] Compassion in World Farming, 2014. Welfare issues for rabbits. [Online]. Available from: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/rabbits/welfare-issues/ [Accessed 10 October 2014]
[x] RSPCA Australia Knowledgebase, 22 May 2014. ‘What is the RSPCA’s view on farming rabbits for meat?’Available at: http://kb.rspca.org.au/what-is-the-rspcas-view-on-farming-rabbits-for-meat_357.html
[xii] European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), 2005. The impact of the current housing and husbandry systems on the health and welfare of farmed domestic rabbits. [pdf] Available at: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/267.pdf [Accessed 14 October 2014].
[xiii] Compassion in World Farming, 2014.
[xiv] Primary Industries Standing Committee, 2003. ‘Model Code of the Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Intensive Husbandry of Rabbits’. Available at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=369 [Accessed 2 December 2014]
[xv] Leoni et al., 2000. Trasporto e Qualità della Carne. Rivista di Coniglicoltura, 3, pp.
[xvi] EFSA, 2005.
[xvii] Compassion in World Farming, 2014.
[xviii] Edwards, 2014.
[xix] McBride, 2003.
[xx] Brewer, N. R., 2006. Biology of the rabbit. Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science 45, pp. 8-24.
[xxi] RSPCA, 2014. Rabbit factfile. [Online]. Available from: www.rspca.org.uk [Accessed 14 October 2014]
[xxii] Inglis, Bryce, 2010. ‘Aspects and Attitudes of Keeping Pet Rabbits in Australia’. Rabbit Run-Away Orphanage. Available at: http://www.rabbitrunaway.org.au/Aspects%20and%20Attitudes%20of%20Keeping%20Pet%20Rabbits%20in%20Australia.pdf [Accessed 3 December 2014]