MOUNTAIN SPECIES: Volcano rabbit of the mountains of Mexico is found at elevations between 2,800 and 4,250 metres.
By Mary Margaret
The Year of Rabbit is hopping in as the tiger makes ready to leap away.
Individuals born in this year, according to tradition, are calm private introverted people who shy away from aggression. They are not antisocial and are good communicators. The year 2011, is the year of the Metal Rabbit. Those born in this year are said to be ambitious and able to immerse themselves in projects.
Rabbits symbolise innocence and fertility. Sometimes a rabbit’s foot is carried for good luck (but not for the rabbit).
Rabbits, including the much loved carrot-munching Bugs Bunny’s — ‘What’s up doc?’, figure prominently in literature around the world. Do you recall the time-conscious white rabbit that led Alice down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and Brier Rabbit of African-American folk tales? According to Japanese and Korean folk tales, rabbits live on the moon making rice cakes.
In the natural world, rabbits and hares are members of the Leporidae family and along withpikas make up the order Lagomorpha. Rabbits and rodents were originally classed together as they have superficial similarities, then separated, and now DNA analysis shows they have a common ancestor.
Rabbits are generally nocturnal and their large ears probably assist them to detect predators. Their strong hind legs enable a fast escape from hunters.
These herbivores are found in a wide range of habitats including grasslands, woodlands, forests and wetlands; with over half of the world’s rabbit population found in North America. However, representatives of the family are found in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. Sumatra and other Southeast Asian countries boast endemic rabbit populations.
Domesticated rabbits have come to the shores of Borneo, which does not have native members of the Lagormorpha order, and these are generally seen as cute pets. In other places, rabbits are hunted for food and their peltsEuropean settlers brought rabbits along to their new homes. In 1859, rabbits arrived in Australia and this introduced species turned into a major pest leading to a loss of native species and denuding the land of native vegetation, causing erosion. Hunting, poisoning and biological control are some of the ways tried to control the fast reproducing population.
Rabbits are known to be able to reproduce quickly. A litter consists of four to 12 young that are weaned at about five weeks, despite being born hairless and very vulnerable. The milk is so nutritious that the young need only nurse once or twice a day.
Unlike rabbit populations in Australia, some species are under threat. The Sumatran striped rabbit (Nesolagus netscheri) is one of two species of striped rabbits listed as vulnerable. The nocturnal rabbit is found only in the forests of western Sumatra. It is grey with a red rump and brown stripes. For a rabbit, it has short four-inch ears and tail.
NEW DISCOVERY: The Annamite striped rabbit was recently identified in the mountain forests of Laos and Vietnam.
The otherspecies of striped rabbit — the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi) — has only recently been identified in the mountain forests of Laos and Vietnam.
Several other species of rabbits around the world are also endangered. These include the riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) of the South African Karoo Desert and the Japanese Amami rabbit. This bulky rabbit has dark fur and is preyed upon by snakes and mongooses. It is also loosing habitat to deforestation. Volcano rabbit of the mountains of Mexico, which is found at elevations between 2,800 and 4,250 metres, is endangered due to habitat degradation and hunting.
Cute bunnies abound in Kuching as the Year of the Rabbit makes its entrance, but should we really give them as pets? As the animals grow, they require care and commitment far beyond the festive season. A rabbit will be a loyal pet that requires love and attention.
Let us also keep our eyes on the ones in the wild that are endangered and take steps to help such populations stay wild and free.
NEEDS PROTECTION: The riverine rabbit of the South African Karoo Desert is endangered.