This article is from
Creation 41(1):28–31, January 2019

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Bunnies cute and cursed

Leporids (members of the rabbit and hare family) are now found on every continent except Antarctica. Credit: 123rf.com


While some cuddle bunnies, others curse them.

For example, in the Australian state of Queensland, such is the fear of rabbit overpopulation and resultant ravaging of pastures—and the potential hazard of warrens (underground burrows) — that all rabbits are declared vermin.1

Police there seized a pet Flemish rabbit for destruction; its lady owner faced a $44,000 fine and possible six-month jail term! But in the neighbouring state of New South Wales, where there is no such prohibition on pet rabbits, a Rabbit Sanctuary heard of the case, and she was permitted to take the rabbit across the border to safety.2

A different kind of love for rabbit

While rabbits are kept as pets today, this likely arose from originally being kept for food. Rabbit husbandry is thought to have been practised in ancient Rome (after the Romans had spread rabbits across their empire as a game animal). Medieval monks in southern France are thought to have kept rabbits in their monasteries as a ready food source about 1,400 years ago.3

In the 1930s, hunters in Iowa, USA, reported that the rabbits they shot had several horn-like protrusions on many parts of their bodies, especially their faces and necks. Subsequent research identified that these horny warts resulted from cottontail rabbit papilloma virus. The virus might also be the source of myths about the ‘jackalope’—a rabbit with the horns of an antelope.

In various regions of Europe and Asia today, rabbits are still bred for their meat. But sometimes a backyard hutch-bred rabbit so endears itself to its owners that it never makes the journey to the kitchen table.

Converting grass to meat

Rabbit farming, or cuniculture, is an efficient way of converting grass and other plants of little or no human food value into high-value animal protein. Rabbits can turn 20% of the plant proteins they eat into edible meat. One reason for this high fodder-conversion efficiency is that rabbits have a distinctive ‘double-digestion’ process. This maximally extracts useful nutrients from the often hard-to-digest plant material they eat. Fully-digested material is passed out of the body as hard fecal droppings. But partially-digested material passes out of the bunny’s body as soft mucus-lined pellets known as cecotropes. The rabbit immediately eats these, which this time round can be fully digested and further nourish the rabbit.

This process is called cecotrophy, because it involves a special pouch at the beginning of the large intestine called the cecum, where bacteria help to break down digestion-resistant cellulose into simple sugars. This makes cecotropes very different from feces.

Bunnies belaboured by biblioskeptics

The Bible in Leviticus 11:3–6 groups rabbits with ruminant livestock as creatures that “chew the cud”.4 Some people say that the Bible is wrong, because rabbits do not chew cud, but this is a simple misinterpretation of the Hebrew. The Hebrew phrase for ‘chewing the cud’ simply means ‘raising up what has been swallowed’. This most certainly is what rabbits do—not by regurgitation, but by refection.5

‘Breeding like rabbits’—females reach maturity as young as 3 months, and can have 2 –3 litters of 1–14 kits each per year.

Hares, too

Nest of week-old kits.

Hares are very similar to rabbits and are probably part of the same biblical created ‘kind’.6 Often this can be verified by hybridising, but there have been no authenticated rabbit-hare hybrids, despite reports of their existence, including one by Charles Darwin.7 A laboratory study achieved successful fertilization, but the embryo did not develop past the blastocyst stage.8

Overall, it seems reasonable to suggest that the nine living genera and sixty or so species of rabbits and hares that today comprise the Family Leporidae derive from one created kind, of which Noah only needed a single pair aboard the Ark. After the Flood, Noah released them, as God commanded, “that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.” (Genesis 8:17)

Faster than you might think

Prior to British settlement, Australia had no rabbits. However, when colonists deliberately introduced them for game in the 19th century, the wild European rabbits very quickly ‘bred abundantly’. For example, settler Thomas Austin released 24 rabbits onto his estate in Victoria in 1859. In 1866, just seven years later, shooters bagged 14,253 on his property alone. By 1910 rabbits had multiplied to such an extent, they had spread 4,000 kilometres across the continent, to the coast of Western Australia. In many areas, they were in plague proportions.9

This continental dispersal was not due to any individual rabbit, or rabbit pair, travelling thousands of kilometres/miles. Rather, as rabbit numbers increased, the population expanded its territory into previously unoccupied areas. These creatures quickly occupied vast areas simply by gradual spread, expanding their territory as they increased population numbers. This counters the Bible-skeptic idea that global post-Flood migration would have needed a long time.

After the Genesis Flood, there was little resistance to animal invasion all around the world, with successive population waves of animals being able to readily occupy ‘empty’ ecological niches in all directions. A biblical worldview and timeline helps us to properly make sense of the life around us.

Why are rabbits a pest in Australia, but not elsewhere?

The long fur of Angora rabbits is the result of a genetic mutation. Normal rabbits can switch off fur growth, but Angoras must be sheared around every three months, and cannot survive in the wild.

The overpopulation of rabbits in Australia compared to their northern hemisphere source countries is probably due to two main factors: the mild winters, allowing year-round breeding, plus the lack of natural enemies such as polecats (mustelids). Excessive numbers of rabbits cause serious de-vegetation of the land, leading to soil erosion, and contribute to the demise of native animals.10

Shooting, trapping/snaring, and rabbit-proof fencing were all used to try to curb Australia’s rabbit plague. However, it was only in 1950–1951, with the release of the myxoma virus, that a serious dent was made in their numbers.11

No evolution, anywhere (despite the claims)

The virus killed 90 to 99.8% of infected rabbits; often before an infected rabbit could transmit the virus to another rabbit. So authorities were forced to carry out intensive myxoma re-release campaigns. But the surviving rabbits were now the descendants of those who had survived the initial release, so the percentage of resistance in the population was now much higher. Weakened versions of the virus also appeared, meaning that it wasn’t always fatal.

Natural selection certainly seems to have played its part in the rabbit-myxoma saga, but only to remove genetic information (that of non-resistant rabbits, and with them the virulent strains of the virus). Evolutionists claim this as evolution—the rabbits ‘evolved’ the ability to survive the virus, and the virus ‘evolved’ to be less deadly to the rabbits. However, we can see that the resistant rabbits already existed; they just became a much larger portion of the rabbit population. And weaker versions of the virus that didn’t kill their host had a better chance of being spread to other rabbits. So nothing new was created—meaning that it isn’t ‘evolution’ in any microbes-to-man sense.

Myxomatosis and other afflictions (see ‘jackalope’ photo) remind us that this world of death and sickness is nothing like the originally “very good” world God made (Genesis 1:31). It is now a world “in bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21). Mutations (genetic degradation) are symptomatic of that, and while some mutations may make rabbits look ‘cute’ (e.g. floppy ears, and the white fur and pink eyes of albinism), in reality all rabbits are ‘cursed’ (Genesis 3, Romans 8:19–22)—as is the whole creation, including us.

So, we look forward to a new heavens and earth where there will be no more sickness and death, or ecological disasters!

References and notes

  1. Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Declared animals of Queensland—Pest Animals Fact Sheet PA2: October 2013; daf.qld.gov.au, acc. 24 December 2017. Return to text.
  2. Auerbach, T., Rabbit saved by being sent south from Queensland, dailytelegraph.com.au, 16 March 2016. Return to text.
  3. Clutton-Brock, J.A., Natural History of Domesticated Mammals, p. 182, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1999. Return to text.
  4. Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778), the creationist father of modern classification, saw it this way too, initially grouping rabbits with ruminants because of the similarities in their digestive processes. Return to text.
  5. For more, see Sarfati, J., Do rabbits chew their cud? creation.com/rabbit. Return to text.
  6. .The primary difference between hares and rabbits is that hares have a longer gestational period and are born with fur and open eyes, which newborn rabbits lack. Also, hares live above ground and don’t dig burrows. Hares are limited to the genus Lepus, with rabbits comprising the other eight extant genera in the Family Leporidae: Oryctolagus, Sylvilagus, Pentalagus, Bunolagus,Nesolagus, Romerolagus, Brachylagus, Poelagus. Return to text.
  7. Darwin, C.R., The variation of animals and plants under domestication—Volume 1, p. 105, John Murray, London, UK, 1868. Return to text.
  8. Chang, M.C., Marston, J.H., and Hunt, D.M., Reciprocal fertilization between the domesticated rabbit and the snowshoe hare with special reference to insemination of rabbits with an equal number of hare and rabbit spermatozoa, Journal of Experimental Zoology 155(3):437–446, 1964. Return to text.
  9. Wieland, C., The grey blanket, Creation 25(4):45–47, 2003; creation.com/blanket. Return to text.
  10. Pest management in NSW national parks fact sheet: rabbits, December 2005; Department of Environment and Conservation, New South Wales. Return to text.
  11. Kerr, P., and Best, S., Myxoma virus in rabbits, Rev. sci. tech. Off. int. Epiz., 17(1):256–268, 1998. Return to text.

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