Rabbits are relatively new in domestication in comparison to other domesticated animals and their ancestor is the wild rabbit we still have today. The wild rabbit lives in varying habitats including forests, woodland, meadows, savannah, deserts and wetland and rabbits are found in several parts of the world. Domestic rabbits show many of the behaviours of wild rabbits both with maternal and nesting behaviour and their social and natural behaviours.
Rabbits live in family groups and dig into the ground to create burrows that form networks called a warren. The warren contains different areas which are used for specific activities such as sleeping and nesting.
The natural life of rabbits
Rabbits are prey animals and therefore to avoid predators they mainly feed at dusk and dawn. They are herbivores and eat a variety of plants including grass. While above ground, rabbits will frequently check for predators by sitting up on their back legs or against objects with their ears pricked to check for noise; this is part of their natural behaviour.
They have an excellent sense of smell and peripheral vision. Rabbits are very good diggers and they have the ability to hop about 70cm; run at up to 30km/h; and jump higher than a metre.
Rabbits are highly social animals and live in family groups of 2-9 females, 1-3 males and their offspring. The family will share their home range and live in burrows together which they will defend against predators and other rabbits. Mutual grooming is important to reinforce social bonds.
Mother rabbits (does) will tend to be reproductive when the climate is favourable. They will build a nest close to the time of giving birth, where they will give birth and suckle her babies.
Rabbit farming today
Nearly 1.2 billion rabbits are slaughtered annually for meat worldwide; over 40% of these are in China. Rabbits are the second most farmed species in the EU with an estimated 326 million slaughtered for meat ever year, the majority of which is in Italy, Spain and France.
Nearly all farmed rabbits for meat and fur are kept in barren environments often in cages where their natural behaviour is severely restricted.
Intensive farming systems have severe negative implications for the welfare of rabbits.