- This topic has 8 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 2023-07-06 at 09:39 by .
February 24, 2023 at 12:43 pm #1673clive
Overlooked, overhunted, poisoned and taken for granted for far too long. Now the humble rabbit even has its own LIFE EU project with millions in funding. https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/the-iberian-rabbit/
March 8, 2023 at 10:05 am #1687clive
Farmers in Spain are protesting against the “hybrid rabbit”, a cross between domestic and wild rabbit species, which they claim is devastating crops and displacing native rabbits and hares. Protesters accuse the government of deliberately releasing the animal to repopulate endangered species, which has caused harm to the native rabbit and hare populations. The hybrids are larger, more voracious, have more offspring per litter and double the number of litters per year. Farmers have demanded a temporary hunting emergency declaration, a study to clarify when and how the rabbit appeared, and a ban on releasing domestic rabbits into populations of native rabbits.
Full article here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/hybrid-rabbits-in-spain/
March 9, 2023 at 11:58 pm #1690SteveT
Hi Clive. Is it true that a hybrid rabbit have been released. It always amazes me how few rabbits you see in Spain compared to the UK, considering they are indigenous. Or evidence droppings.
Its never good to introduce new DNA into wild populations. I am sure the domestic DNA will have little advantage in the wild – quite the opposite long term. It may in the short term help lynx potentially if they are proliferating.
Also rabbits must have been breed in the past and semi domesticated for food – or at least been breed selectively for ability to put on weight. These must have gone feral many times. Breeding of rabbits for food is not something I’ve heard of from a historical perspective in Spain but it must have been done.March 10, 2023 at 10:25 am #1691clive
Hi Steve, nice to hear from you.
I think your point about captive release, captive release and so on must be true over the centuries. Just from the point of view of convenience and to improve meat supply. Maybe even introducing stock from elsewhere in Europe.
I think, in this case, that this was a knejerk reaction to re introduce rabbits so the lynx can be reintroduced into the same area. The area in the news recently with the hybrids is actually very close to the new project for the Iberian Highlands rewildling project. https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/the-iberian-highlands-rewilding-project/
Also, the “plague” didn’t happen overnight. Its taken years for them to get to the numbers the farmers are talking about. I suspect the releases of a semi wild/domestic stock has been done quietly but its gone wrong when the rabbits have moved down to arable land from the “wild” to take advantage of the easier food supply……
I still don’t get how they have become a plague. Every restaurant should have them on the menu to control a balanced population reducing the amount of factory farmed stock needed for the human food supply…. No?
March 12, 2023 at 7:59 pm #1694SteveT
Thanks for this Clive and the link to the Iberian Highland rewilding project.April 19, 2023 at 9:50 am #1704clive
Just came across this article that states the hybrid is a bit of a myth after studies showed almost all to be authentic Spanish wild rabbits!
“After studying over 70 populations throughout the peninsula and collecting samples from more than 1,700 rabbits, ‘only two turned out to be hybrids with domestic rabbits.’ While farming associations speak of a ‘hybrid rabbit plague,’ experts claim that they are wild rabbits.”
Después de estudiar a más de 70 poblaciones por toda la península, recogiendo muestras de más de 1.700 conejos, “solamente dos salieron que eran híbridos con doméstico”
Mientras las asociaciones agrarias hablan de “plaga de conejos híbridos”, expertos aseguran que son conejos de monte
June 14, 2023 at 3:45 pm #1739Carl
Interesting article stating that there are no hybrid rabbits in Spain… The logic is fine regarding the scientific name etc but a domestic rabbit is still a lot different to a wild one no?
En primer lugar, hay que aclarar que el conejo silvestre o de monte (Oryctolagus cuniculus) es una especie nativa de la península ibérica. Todas las variedades de conejo doméstico han derivado a partir de la subespecie O. cuniculus cuniculus. Por tanto, los conejos silvestres y domésticos son la misma especie.July 5, 2023 at 3:50 pm #1751clive
This is at the bottom on the comments section here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/hybrid-rabbits-in-spain/
Hybrid Rabbits in Spain: Fact or Fiction?
Not long ago there was a been a buzz about a supposed plague of “hybrid rabbits” decimating Spanish crops. These rabbits, a mix of wild and domestic breeds, are causing extensive damage in various regions of Spain. Their larger size, higher reproductive capacity, increased voracity, and atypical behaviors for the species are blamed for the severe agricultural losses.
However, this narrative does not align with reality. Firstly, it’s important to clarify that the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), a native species to the Iberian Peninsula, serves as the basis for all domestic rabbit varieties. Thus, wild and domestic rabbits belong to the same species.
While it is true that certain wild rabbit populations may exhibit “domestic” traits, potentially due to the release of rabbits with questionable genetics during hunting repopulation efforts, such instances are minimal. The so-called “exceptional capabilities” attributed to hybrid rabbits are actually inherent in wild rabbits.
But if the damaging rabbits are native, how can a native species become a plague?
The imbalance within rabbit populations stems from three key factors: a scarcity of natural food sources, a lack of predation (both natural and through hunting), and a reduction in disease impact.
Linear structures like roads and train tracks, coupled with soft soil facilitating burrowing, further contribute to the situation.
The primary cause of the damage lies in the scarcity of natural food.
A study conducted in vineyards of Córdoba revealed that rabbit damage is influenced by the availability of natural food, specifically the diversity and abundance of herbaceous plants. Damage to crops is significantly higher in areas where natural food is scarce, leading rabbits to resort to feeding on crops. This phenomenon may have been exacerbated this year due to drought conditions.
This interaction between rabbit density and the availability of natural food is far from trivial. Even a small number of rabbits, without alternative food sources, can inflict severe damage to crops. Vineyards, being particularly susceptible to herbivory, suffer substantial losses when rabbits feed on the shoots that give rise to grape clusters.
It is worth noting that the rabbit abundances observed in most affected areas are not as high as in regions without sensitive crops, thereby avoiding conflicts.
Ironically, damage can be mitigated by increasing the availability of natural food. Strategies like allowing vegetation growth between rows of woody crops and maintaining vegetation in uncultivated areas (such as boundaries, slopes, streams, and road edges) prove effective in enhancing food availability.
The absence of predators, such as foxes, and reduced predator diversity and abundance in certain altered landscapes like agricultural areas contribute to the local surge in rabbit populations.
Moreover, the impact of diseases on rabbit populations has diminished over time. Diseases like myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic fever, which were once rampant, have become endemic, reducing their virulence. Consequently, rabbits have developed some resistance, resulting in a decreased negative effect on their populations. In areas with higher rabbit abundances, there is a higher prevalence of antibodies against these diseases.
In conclusion, it is the ecosystem’s dysfunction, not hybridization, that lies at the root of the damage caused by rabbits.
Spreading baseless information maligns rabbits, creating an atmosphere of tension and confusion, which can lead to false accusations and unwarranted actions against this species, which plays a crucial role in the ecosystem.
July 6, 2023 at 9:39 am #1752clive
And here is the Google translation from and interview with a leading biologist involved in rabbit studies.
Rafael Villafuerte, CSIC: “Los daños de los conejos son insoportables para muchos agricultores, pero son conejos silvestres” Original article here: https://www.20minutos.es/noticia/5119971/0/rafael-villafuerte-del-csic-danos-conejos-insoportables-conejos-silvestres/
For decades there have been voices that have come to indicate that they were Australian rabbits
What measures were taken to respond to complaints from the primary sector?These different beliefs led several autonomous communities in which rabbits were creating great damage to agriculture to ask Dr. Francisca Castro (currently at the University of Córdoba) for a rigorous genetic analysis. This was the case of Catalonia, the Valencian Community, or Castilla-La Mancha. More recently, we repeated the sampling and analysis with many more genetic markers. The result made in Castilla-La Mancha is absolutely conclusive: the rabbits are not domestic but wild and in addition to the Oryctolagus cuniculus species , that is, the one from our natural environment.
These results agree with other work that we carried out in 2015 and led by Dr. Vicente Piorno (Xunta de Galicia), in which it was experimentally verified that the persistence of domestic or “hybrid” rabbits with domestic rabbits released into the natural environment was fortunately minimal. . In the domestication process we are very clear that the greatest differentiations occurred in the genes that control development and the nervous system. Broadly speaking, domestic rabbits are not afraid, which makes them the first to be preyed on or killed by hunters.
Has the abandonment of domestic rabbits in Spain been monitored?I have not known in my scientific career a single case of abandonment of rabbits in the natural environment. If this unfortunate fact has ever happened, the survival of these animals will be very low for what I have mentioned before.
Those affected maintain that there are rabbits “more voracious, with greater reproductive capacity” and, in general, they allege a genetic improvement. Does this have scientific support?Hybrids, voracious, high reproductive capacity, abnormal behaviour… There are many descriptions attributed to it. Not all true. As for the fact that they are basically hybrid wild rabbits with domestic ones, as I have already said, our analyzes have been very conclusive: this is flatly false, at least in Castilla-La Mancha where we have terminated the genetic analyzes of thousands of samples. collected on the ground
Regarding the high reproductive capacity, it should be taken into account that rabbits are capable of going into heat as long as the food ingested exceeds 20% protein, something that will easily occur in agricultural areas, but also in areas where the vegetation has not developed defensive strategies against rabbits, as has happened in many regions of the world where the species has been introduced.
How then could the alarm and the myth of hybridization spread so much?Unfortunately, the existence of the two subspecies of wild rabbit is little known in non-academic environments, possibly because they have almost the same morphological appearance (something that happens to all rabbits in the world). A misinterpretation of the existence of hybrid rabbits (I insist, they are wild) between the two known subspecies of the species may have helped spread this false hoax.
And what about other alleged anomalous behaviors such as climbing trees or being extraordinarily large?In general, cultivable plants have little or no defenses, something that many peninsular wild plants that have co-evolved with rabbits do. Rabbits (like many other species of wild herbivores) select cultivable plants over others with less nutritional richness or palatability. Supposedly abnormal behaviors such as climbing trees, or eating the bark of fruit trees, is unfortunately natural, especially if that is the only food available. The higher quality of food will be associated with greater body growth, something that has also been verified precisely with rabbits. The wild rabbits of Australia or England (both of the subspecies Oryctolagus cc), are much larger than the Iberian rabbits of that same subspecies. Animals that have rich and abundant food are usually larger. For example, we are -on average- older than our grandparents and giants for our great-grandparents. In one or two generations with abundant food (and with fewer predators disturbing feeding and breeding), rabbits will necessarily be larger and have a higher reproductive rate. It has also been shown that higher abundances
rabbit in these situations lead to a higher prevalence of antibodies against viral diseases (such as myxomatosis or rabbit haemorrhagic disease), which results in them appearing immune to diseases.
Only 4.8% of abandoned rabbits have a chip, despite being mandatory since 2016
What are your conclusions regarding the alarm about the high presence of rabbits and the false existence of hybrids?Rabbits have been taking advantage of roads, highways and railways to colonize agricultural areas where before they were little or not frequent. The cocktail is served: for people not used to seeing rabbits in many of these areas, more or less bizarre explanations have been emerging that they are exotic, immune and extremely voracious animals.
I begin to believe that the idea of supporting at all costs the belief that these are “non-wild” animals by certain sectors is stubbornly maintained. We must bear in mind that, for example, if it is about wild animals, control is subject to much more restrictive regulations than if it were an exotic, introduced species or, for example, a hybrid with a domestic one.
I am very clear that the damage caused by rabbits is really unbearable for many farmers, and it is necessary to seek urgent solutions. However, it is advisable to rely on data obtained and analyzed with the rigor required by the scientific method.
I am very clear that the damage caused by rabbits is really unbearable for many farmers.
Speaking of our two native species: what is the current situation of their populations?Approximately 70% of the populations that we are analyzing since 1993, when we began the first large-scale study of abundance, have a negative population trend or have even gone extinct. In fact, the rabbit is a species listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, this occurs in “natural” areas, while many rabbit populations in agrosystems remain stable or are growing. Many of these are the ones that generate problems in crops.
There are numerous images on social networks of peri-urban roundabouts and railway lines with an abundant presence of rabbits. Why do they settle in these types of environments? Do they pose any risk?Railway lines and roads (especially highways due to the fact that they are fenced) are an important aid to the presence and connectivity of rabbit populations. The lack of predators and the presence of food close to these infrastructures can occasionally lead to significant abundances of rabbits. This is the case of large and medium roundabouts. In general, it does not usually pose a significant problem for humans except for some risk of collisions. However, in some areas, usually further away from the cities, the high presence of rabbits attracts certain predators such as lynx, many of which may end up being run over.
That is to say, that in these settlements, they are less exposed to their predators, is that correct?Rabbits have many natural predators in the Iberian Peninsula. There are some that are super-specialized in their consumption, such as the lynx, but there are also more opportunistic or generalist ones, such as foxes or kites. For obvious reasons, specialists (such as the lynx or the imperial eagle) have had and still have severe problems if their main prey species declines. However, and despite the fact that rabbits may be abundant in some areas (for example, in agricultural systems or lagoon complexes), this does not imply that it is a good place for the presence of these predators. These things are never that simple.
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