Nature can be harsh and cruel. And our grass and plant-eating rabbits are no exception to this. Even in children’s stories like the “Peter Rabbit” books by Beatrix Potter, and especially in Richard Adams’ “Watership Down”, the rabbit characters are not always guaranteed a carefree life and a happy ending.
Now, in the United Kingdom, rabbit numbers fluctuate regularly, but in the first half of the twentieth century rabbit numbers regularly exceeded one hundred million! Farmers like my grandfather used to employ “trappers” to keep down rabbit numbers and prevent them from ruining crops and eating the grass intended for cattle. These trappers went from farm to farm with hundreds of snares and made their living from catching the rabbits for farmers and selling the meat and furs. “Trapper Philips”, employed by my grandfather, was a larger-than-life character in my childhood with his string of traps around his neck and bags of rabbits on his back as he did his daily rounds.
But all that changed in 1953 when the disease “myxomatosis” was introduced into the United Kingdom. The number of rabbits was decimated by this horrible viral disease within months, and, ever since, when rabbit numbers increased, this, or other viral diseases, have taken their toll and cut numbers back.
In recent weeks, however, we have noticed increasing numbers or rabbits on our farm and some even finding their way into our gardens. Last week one was sitting boldly in the middle of our lawn!
But rabbits don’t only have to worry about the predations of disease. They have other enemies to concern them like foxes and even buzzards, who swoop down dramatically to capture young rabbits!
Working late in the farm office yesterday, I was surprised to see a fox trotting up the road, walking confidently into the gardens and checking for the scent of fresh prey.
So, our rabbits don’t need to heed the words of the World War II song,
“Run rabbit, run rabbit, run rabbit, run;
Don’t let the farmer shoot you with his gun!”
They have other foes to worry about. The fox is on the prowl. Nature is taking its course.