I learned more in that conference then the totality of my experience with domestic rabbits. My knowledge base has doubled literally overnight! (The conference was held in Montpellier, France. So 2 am here was their 8 am start time) I’m still going over my notes, absorbing the information and reviewing some snapshots I took of the data sets. I can share some of the data, but unfortunately we will all have to wait until it is published and reviewed before we can see everything in detail for the protection of the researchers intellectual property. I will list my top three findings so I can share my excitement with the discoveries.
WLS focus is with wild populations of rabbits hares and pikas and there was only one domestic non researcher present giving a talk on their beautiful rabbit rescue program in BC, Canada called Rabbitat Rescue. I think the information, though geared toward wild populations can help the domestic industry and vice versa.
Firstly it was discovered that there is a pheromone involved in wild rabbit feedings. This trait, which I haven’t observed in domestics, could be a huge advantage in reducing infant mortality rates in rescues, wildlife rehab and domestic development! If we can replicate the hormones/pheromones involved we could get kits to feed more readily in manual feedings or to transition them to a kindled doe in another litter more easily in the event of an emergency.
My second favorite discovery was about the unique population of Irish hares. They have developed peculiar phenotypes which cause golden fur color and purple irises as a result of inbreeding on the island. While this represents a problem with genetic diversity, I believe a simple swap of purple iris hares and diverse hares from another region can rehabilitate both populations and lead to a spread of these unique traits. I know the domestic industry would go nuts over a rare eye color such as this. This could benefit the WLS through fund raising initiatives and benefit the domestic industry through hybridization and genetic diversity.
Thirdly, I was surprised to see so many American representatives give talks. Their research into white tailed jack rabbits, desert cottontails and wildlife management was heart warming. The presentation I enjoyed the most was given by a private researcher who discovered not only are wild populations not being monitored, but there is in fact no dedicated biologist to Lagomorphs in any state! At best there is a small animal program manager who technically oversees the operation, but not given anymore time to rabbits over any other small game. I can confirm his findings and his findings confirms my research and fears. While most states responded that cottontail populations were stable, most were uncertain as to the state of other rabbit or hare populations. Most hunters can’t tell the difference between rabbits and hares much less different species, some of which are endangered. I intend to update my states small animals program with the findings and see what we can do to rectify this issue.
The problems that face the wild Lagomorpha community also effect the domestics. RHDV2 and Myxomatosis don’t discriminate based on field so neither should we. I believe the only way to improve the issues in domestic rabbit programs is to look to scientific research. While my estimates in A Deterministic system based on my research give us less that 5 decades before domestic rabbit extinction from inbreeding, we are at a unique juncture where the population is just large enough and the technology and research is available so that we can use it to avoid this catastrophe. And if my theories are correct hybridization of domestic and wild rabbits can rehabilitate collapsing ecologies and diversify domestic genetics.
The top issues for WLS seem to be finding funding, coordination between everyones research and following. While most of us can’t contribute through scientific means, we can all join the World Lagomorpha Society as members and financial contributions can help their research despite being a world away. If you are a member of Rabbit House Society, ARBA or PETA, I recommend taking a look at their website, their research and their missions and signing up to be a member to disseminate this information or to help fund research to save these wonderfully complex animals.
I hope everyone had a Happy Fourth! And thank you for all your support of me, Lagomorpha (rabbits hares and pikas), and by extension the world at large.