We love our rabbits today, we even let them live in our homes with us! Let’s find out how rabbits came into our lives as pets.
History of rabbits through the ages
All the wild rabbits in this country and all the 305 global rabbit breeds have descended from the European rabbit. Recent research has shown that all European rabbits carry common genetic markers and descend from one of two maternal lines. These lines originated many millions of years ago when glaciers isolated two populations. One on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) and one in Southern France. It can be assumed that early human species began hunting rabbits as a food source, but little comprehensive evidence of the relationship with humans exists until Roman times.
There seems to be a lot of debate and controversy about the timing of domestication of the rabbit. That is history for you! One of the theories is that wild rabbits were first tamed in 600 A.D. by French monks.
In any event rabbits were introduced from Spain and France to many countries including Britain. The historical evidence credits the Romans with the earliest written records of rabbits and as being the first to use hutches and walled enclosures. By the middle ages, rabbits were regularly transported across Europe. It took more than 2000 years for differences to be noted between the bones of wild or captive/ domesticated rabbits. So it has been concluded that the domestication of rabbits was a cumulative effect rather than happening at any set date.
Introduction of pet rabbits
The rabbit’s emergence as a household pet began during the Victorian era, when a lot of selective breeding went on. Variations include size and body shape, coat type, including hair length and texture, coat colour and markings and of course ear carriage. Rabbit shows started to be widespread and with the development of organisations such as The British Rabbit Council (BRC) in the 1920s, interest in rabbits as show animals has had a knock on effect on the pet rabbit market.
Today there are many different breeds of rabbit that are frequently kept as pets. Like everything else we humans do; the breeding of rabbits is subject to fashion, and just as has happened in pedigree dog breeding, some breeding has led to extremes of conformation not beneficial to the individual.
Today, The BRC encourages research into diseases amongst other topical issues relating to all rabbits. As the role of the rabbit has developed into a popular pet, The BRC actively encourages good welfare and husbandry amongst pet owners.
So today’s pet rabbit may look and behave differently from its wild cousin, but underneath it’s just the same. Interestingly, genetically they are practically identical!