Rabbits

Traditional symbols of fertility, vitality, rebirth and good luck, 25th September is International Rabbit Day when special attention is drawn to the exploitation of rabbits for their fur, meat, wool and manure.


It may come as a surprise that the treatment of the rabbit is not very different from that of the chicken. The India Development Gateway provides project reports and encourages rabbit farming for additional income under agriculture. It is also promoted by several other government departments like the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India as an activity under rural technology. And then, there is the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) whose business it is to endorse, teach and provide loans for breeding and killing animals for monetary gain. In fact, the Government of India has been promoting rabbit farming by introducing the Integrated Development of Small Ruminants (IDSR), Entrepreneurship Development & Employment generation for rearing them under the National Livestock Mission.


Intensive rabbit farming (deep litter and cage systems) is not yet that common in India, but could catch on considering the Government’s efforts and vested interests who term rabbit meat as the “food of the future”. Many more rabbits are therefore poised to become living machines, forced to produce eight to eleven litters per year, averaging seven bunnies per litter – specially bred and reared for slaughter.

To breed, raise and kill rabbits for the meat, fur and wool is cuniculture.


Bred to be Killed for Fur – and Meat


The rabbit was the first animal farmed in India for its fur – a new strain developed in the US was exploited.

At the Central Sheep & Wool Research Institute (CSWRI) at Garsa in Kulu District, Himachal Pradesh (an ICAR establishment), immediately after beheading the rabbits, their fur is removed like taking off a shirt by holding its hind legs and pulling the skin down. (This has been filmed by BWC and can be seen in our film “Beauty Without Cruelty” on this website.) The carcasses are also widely promoted as rabbit meat in the area.

Soon after our investigation and filming of rabbits at CSWRI, a prospective rabbit breeder was convinced by Beauty Without Cruelty to grow mushrooms instead. In comparison to the vast scale of operations, this is a tiny benefit for rabbits.

ICAR and other Government departments have introduced wool and broiler rabbit production not only in Himachal Pradesh, but also in hilly areas of Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Tripura, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Rajasthan, Kerala and other climatically favourable places in the country. They recommend that rabbits be fed mulberry leaves. (Growing mulberry aids silk production and rabbit killing too.)


Broiler rabbit production (cage and hutch systems) is particularly encouraged in Tripura by the ICAR which has identified the region as a meat consuming zone with a wide gap between demand and availability of meat due to the high cost of feed which is required to be purchased from outside the state.

In fact, many state governments have for years been encouraging farmers to take up rabbit breeding as a commercial activity because they know rabbits multiply fast. For example, a couple of self-employed Punjabi farmers mistakenly feel that quick, easy returns (but with investment of lakhs of rupees) less space and less time is the crux of rabbit farming. Yet, the Punjab state government’s own venture, a rabbit farm at Dhar Kalan block in Pathankot district, started in 1996 with the aim of producing Angora wool from 100 German rabbits, has failed miserably.

Visits to several rabbit farms at Uttar Pradesh and Haryana in 2012 were revealing. The farms housed sick and wounded rabbits in small cages. Fights, even deaths, resulted due to over-crowding. Conditions were most unhygienic with dirty food and water bowls accompanied by strong stench of urine and faeces. The females gave birth to 8-10 kits (baby rabbits) per litter every month and within two days they were made to mate again. In rabbits, mating induces ovulation so results in definite pregnancy. Normally weaning is a full 8 weeks after birth, whereas gestation is only 4 weeks so unfortunately for the rabbits before the previous litter is weaned another is born.


Rabbit Rearing and Purchase – for Uninformed Slaughter


Rabbit rearing is also being promoted by a number of universities which sponsor rabbit conferences, seminars, projects and courses. It is both tragic and ironic that such institutions of higher learning should be providing instruction in torture and killing and contributing to the incarceration of sentient beings.

Beauty Without Cruelty also investigated rabbit farming as promoted by the All India Rabbit Farming Institute (AIRFI), Pune, which tries hard to find people willing to breed rabbits. They get their rabbits from Vishakhapatnam and apparently see no need to call a vet when the animals are sick, nor are they particular about hygiene. Strange, but true, Indian rabbits (and hare) are not allowed to be kept as pets so the ones that are promoted are imported breeds. It has been claimed that in a year the body weight of such domesticated breeds of rabbits can increase 10-15 times thus resulting in quick production of meat and fur. Under investment schemes, the institute targets different categories of people like housewives, to undertake training to breed rabbits, promising to buy back on weight three month old rabbits at Rs 200/- per kg.

It is significant that the AIRFI try to hide the fact that rabbit rearing is actually breeding rabbits for slaughter – for their meat and fur. They clearly say “you sell the rabbits to us and do not ask what happens to them”.

Rabbits multiply fast as rabbits do, so one often finds sellers on the roadside hawking rabbits in a big cage with one or two on top of the cage to attract attention. They try to sell them in pairs – not as pets but obviously to breed-rear-kill, knowingly or unknowingly it matters little.


Vijayalaxmi Hi-Tech Farms (VHF) situtated in Satara District of Maharashtra, informed that a chicken needs to be fed 20-21 kgs to increase its weight by 1 kg, whereas a rabbit requires only 3 kgs of feed to achieve 1 kg weight. Interestingly, villagers of the area strongly resented rabbit farming because many had been cheated by similar institutes who promised to buy back rabbits, but never did.

Breeds of rabbits said to be suitable for farming in India are White Giant, Grey Giant, Flemish Giant, New Zealand White, New Zealand Red, Californian, Dutch and Soviet Chinchilla, However in Maharashtra, the varieties of rabbits being promoted are the local White, White Giant, Grey Giant and Soviet Chinchilla. AIRFI, VHF, Alfratech Associates, and Kakade Farms, not only abuse the rights of these beautiful innocent creatures, but they exaggerate benefits and profits and even claim to cater to export. Alongside, NABARD panders to their needs.

The Krishi Jagran website promotes commercial rabbit rearing (read breeding-raising-killing) of 4 varieties: the New Zealand White is most commonly used for testing in labs and is also killed for its fur to make gloves and hats, whereas the Angora is killed for fur from which wool is derived and utilised in the making of garments and blankets. The Flemish Giant Rabbit and Grey Giant Rabbit of Russia are killed for their fur and meat.

Not Lucrative


The decision of which industries government should support does not involve the opinion of the people and so government makes training and loans available for rabbit-farming and other occupations that grossly exploit animals. Unfortunately, a new policy “promises to upgrade infrastructure, skilled man-power and artificial insemination for quality breeding” and genetic improvement for many species including rabbits.

However, the good news is that although rabbit farming is being touted as a money-making proposition, rabbits have not been purchased from many village breeders. People are cautious about going in for it despite NABARD offering loans for rabbit farming.

However, in Kerala hundreds of rabbit farms are operating with the assistance of NABARD. The Agriculture and Animal Husbandry departments of the state also promote rabbit farming through a number of schemes and people even rear rabbits at home although it is not paying. Till September 2017 it was illegal to slaughter rabbits under the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). However in 2016, following representations to the PMO that thousands of families’ livelihoods in Kerala depended upon rabbit farming, domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) were added under animals that could be slaughtered for meat.

Many people have learnt the hard way that rabbit farming is not a lucrative business. It may not be possible for BWC to stop rabbit farming altogether, but we are trying to curtail its growth by condemning their breeding for killing, and highlighting the fact that people are being cheated.

In 2009 soon after our exposure on rabbit farming in Compassionate Friend, 24 dead and 23 very sick rabbits, abandoned by a breeder were found near Taljai Hillock, Pune. Immediately Beauty Without Cruelty wrote to the Pune Municipal Commissioner (PMC) requesting an immediate ban on the entry, breeding, rearing, killing and selling of live rabbits and their meat. Information on rabbit farming was submitted to the PMC and the State Animal Husbandry Department who, fearing the spread of disease among humans, stepped in to document information about the unorganised breeding of rabbits and other animals.


Ten years later the problem was still not sorted. In 2019 over 60 rabbits were found kept in inhumane conditions trapped in an unending cycle of breeding for sale at a housing society on Satara Road, Pune.


In-between in 2011, animal rights activists found 2 baby rabbits abandoned in a trash bin at Vasai near Mumbai. The frail little ones were terrified and hungry.


The diseases rabbits commonly get are scabies, blue breast, ear canker, hemorrhagic septicaemia, coccidiosis, pasteurellosis, enteritis, wry neck, mastitis, snuffles, mange, sore feet, and fungal infection.

Rabbit Meat is Bunny Murder


Meat of rabbit is served in some restaurants of India. Chettinad cuisine includes rabbit; and, dhabas or roadside eateries, particularly on the outskirts of Hyderabad, often serve biryani and other dishes made of rabbit meat. Disgustingly, self proclaimed “rabbitary” of Haryana (where there is high mortality due to unfavourable climatic conditions) markets “pearly white” meat.

Rabbit meat is also called lapin or lapan. The dish called Welsh rabbit/rarebit is not made of rabbit meat, but it can contain cheese (animal rennet), Worcestershire sauce (anchovies) and eggs.

Rabbit Fur


Rabbit fur is called lapin too, especially when dyed to imitate a more expensive fur.

Rabbit fur is converted into mufflers, hats, caps, coats, garments, gloves, footwear, handbags, bags, purses, trimmings, cushion covers, rugs, plushies/soft toys, ornaments, knickknacks, etc. The industry also produces various novelty items such as the “lucky” rabbit’s foot charm and other trinkets. It is unfortunate for the rabbit that its ears, teeth, tails, and even rumps are made into ornaments, garnishments and toys. Such items are commonly seen displayed by shops in hill stations and at Kashmir emporiums. It is shocking and equally sad that some grooms proudly wear white rabbit fur headgear for their wedding ceremonies.

Typically, hats like ushanka (with earflaps) and shapka (Russian puffy hat) which are commonly worn in China, North Korea, Russia and Eastern Europe are mostly fur of rabbits, muskrat or cheap sheepskin.

The fur or hair taken off from the pelts of slaughtered Angora rabbits is mixed with other animal wool and used in the making of Angora wool items. So some thing marked “Angora wool” could very well be rabbit fur, not wool of the rabbit.

Blankets/kambals are also made from hair pulled off the raw hides of sheep and rabbits that have been killed.


Rabbit Body-parts also used


Interestingly, meat and fur are not the only body parts of rabbits that are considered consumables. Rabbit-skin glue is used in sizing/priming (also acts as an adhesive) of oil painters’ canvases because they say that the linolenic acid present in oil paints used would otherwise destroy the canvas fibres.

Body-parts of rabbits, such as lungs and brains are utilised in Allopathy, Ayurveda, and Unani medicines. And, the rabbit is one of the 200 animals and birds used in Tribal or Generic medicines in India.

Rabisin, the anti-rabies vaccine from Rhone Meriux of France, is made from the nil cell culture obtained originally from the lung tissue of rabbits.

Victim of Vivisection


Vivisection is the cutting open of live animals to experiment upon. Animals are deliberately infected with the germs causing horrible and painful incurable human diseases like cancer, heart, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, etc. and then test treated over a period of time with varied drugs to see if and how they work.

Medical science and research in different countries involve scientists who believe that vivisection is necessary in spite of knowing it is impossible to recreate a naturally occurring disease which inflicts humans into animals. Budgets for scientific research involving vivisection are so enormous scientists feel they must find ways and means to ‘earn’ the money. So they literally use guinea pigs.

India is no different. Sadism in the form of vivisection and under the banner of scientific research, costing millions in rupees and lives, is practised in several institutes on a regular basis. The foremost are Animal Research Centre, the Patel Chest Institute and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Their victims: rabbits, monkeys, dogs, rats, mice, cats, guinea pigs, etc. The National Centre for Laboratory Animal Sciences, Hyderabad is one of the main suppliers of lab animals like rats, mice, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits. They cater to 180 research institutes (including pharmaceutical companies and educational institutions) and claim to have trained over 600 supervisors during the last decade.

Tests on Rabbits


Toxicology labs are a common feature of pharmaceutical companies. However, contract labs test products for companies who do not have their own facilities. Among testing techniques utilised, the LD-50 Test (Lethal Dose – 50%) on mice and other lab animals, rabbits and dogs included, are conducted: till 50% of those animals that have been made to suffer intensely through force-feeding the drug/material to be tested, die of a lethal doze.

The most notorious of these tests is called the Draize test, named after its inventor, uses rabbits for its subjects. To determine the extent of corrosion caused by the shampoo when it accidentally goes into a person’s eye, it is introduced into the eyes of rabbits and the effects studied. Needless to say, the rabbit has to be kept restrained by its head in a vice so that it can not escape, or even move its head and rub its eyes with its paws. Drops of shampoo are then introduced into its eyes, kept open forcibly, to prevent it from blinking as it would when a foreign body enters the eye. The unique thing of the rabbit compared to other animals is that they possess no tear glands. Therefore, even if it were allowed to blink, the action of blinking would not have the cleansing effect of washing away the irritant from the eye. This provides scientists (read tormentors) ideal conditions for conducting their experiment: their test material is not washed away. The rabbit experiences painful burning during the test which lasts for days, not even hours, and leads to severe burning, swelling, discharge, and eventually the total destruction of the cornea.

The most suspect are those shampoos which claim “no tears”. Finally, when the rabbit has become blind, it may be further tortured for some other test like say a similar skin irritation test for some cream or lotion.

Testing of cosmetics, toilet preparations and other products on animals is unnecessary and meaningless. Manufacturers do it only to cover themselves should they need to defend themselves in consumer lawsuits. Animals are used for the testing of cosmetics, lipsticks, shampoos, detergents, oven-cleaners, floor-polish, crayons, candles, paint, insecticides, pesticides, weed-killers, weapons — the list is endless.

All intravenous injections are tested on animals first, for presence of fever-causing organisms called pyrogen. This is because the dangers of introducing harmful substances into the body are far greater through injections directly into the bloodstream than through oral consumption. Hundreds of innocent, white rabbits, lined up in Indian laboratories have their ears injected and observed, re-injected and observed, till they remain strong enough to tolerate pain and suffering by which time there is no ‘clean’ place left on their ears to inject them. They are then ‘put to sleep’. Young and healthy rabbits replace them and the cycle continues day in and day out, year in and year out.

However, an injected drug can not act or react in an identical manner on a rabbit and on a human. Here again, the pyrogen test only safe guards the manufacturer in having tested his product (as required by law) should a consumer complain of adverse side effects due to a substandard product.

Mosquito repellent cream is tested on rabbits (and rats) at the Haffkine Institute.

In an advertisement for sale of Chate’s Solar Specs to view the sun’s eclipse, it was stated that the device was “tested on rabbits’ eyes to guarantee safety for human eyes”. However, when asked for details, no reply was received by BWC.

Cosmetic Tests not involving Live Animals


In 2000 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development validated alternative tests for acids, bases and other corrosive substances, as no longer required to be Draize tested on animals. The alternatives tests include a human skin equivalent model and the transepicutaneous resistance test (TER), in addition to the consideration of the chemical properties of the substance alone.

Other in vitro or ex vivo tests including the rabbit or chicken isolated eye test, the bovine corneal opacity and permeability (BCOP) assay, the hens egg chorioallantoic membrane (HET-CAM) assay and an epithelial model cultivated from human corneal cells, have been reported to detect severe eye irritants in studies.

The latest is the lab creation of skin and hair follicles from stem cells (to cure baldness) which could the scientists say be used for testing cosmetic products.

Since 1950, the number of new chemicals used in cosmetics has risen 500-fold. Therefore, very many more rabbits (and other animals too) have and are being used for testing because manufacturers want to legally ensure they are safe for humans.

Compu-rabbit Learning


The six computer programmes, called the Compu Series consist of Compu-frog, Compu-rat, Compuroach, Compu-worm, Compu-rabbit, Compu-pigeon are being successfully utilised for teaching. In September 1998, Beauty Without Cruelty – India donated 200 Compu Programme sets to Government and Corporation schools through the Blue Cross, Chennai.

Rabbits and GM


GTC Biotherapeutics Inc (Massachesetts, USA) genetically modified goats to produce human protein in their milk which if consumed by humans, would supposedly prevent blood clotting. Upon approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), scientists hope to produce new products for treating haemophilia, respiratory diseases and debilitating swollen tissues from other genetically altered animals like cows and rabbits as well.

It is significant that a trip for a newspaper article sponsored by the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project-II (ABSP-II) of the Cornell University (supported by the United States Agency for International Development – USAID) states that various studies conducted on BT bringal for safety include acute toxicity and feed studies in rats, rabbits and goats, were conducted at Advinus Therapeutics at Bangalore.

Showpieces


One frequently comes across rabbits, birds and water creatures displayed as an ‘attraction’. Unless the specie is covered by wild life laws, the offenders of these ‘decorative exhibits’ ranging from Chief Ministers and Governors to museums, gardens, hotels, restaurants, temples and for celebrations like Janmashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi, all get away with it while the poor creatures in question suffer it out usually in cramped quarters, under harsh bright lights and spectator (mostly children) disturbance.

These animals are far from contented and are usually confined to small cages or tanks and when they die are simply replaced. In fact, they were probably bought at places such as the Crawford Market, Mumbai or Jama Masjid, Delhi from where just about any creature can be acquired for a price.

Kartik Purnima is the time when the world’s largest Cattle Fair takes place in Sonepur, near Patna. Alongside many other species, rabbits are sold at this Mela.

True vegetarians (and of course vegans) never keep rabbits in hutches, birds in cages, fish in tanks, and so on. Nor would they want to get themselves photographed with rabbits when visiting places like Shimla, Manali and Kufri where locals charge Rs 20/- to let a tourist pose with a rabbit.

Greyhound Racing


In 1988 Beauty Without Cruelty persuaded the Government to prohibit the use of hare (protected under wild life laws) for greyhound racing and coursing which is illegal in India. Despite this, the coursing clubs at Phagwara in Punjab organise annual meets when over 100 pairs of greyhounds chase, catch, and tear apart hundreds of live rabbits. Rabbits are not wildlife like hares.


Pulling Rabbits out of Hats


Magic shows commonly include animals like white pigeons, white rabbits, dogs, birds and gold fish. It should not be forgotten that these creatures need to be trained and are housed in a similar manner as circus animals irrespective of whether the magician is world class or a roadside man.


Animal shows are often unthinkingly organised. For example, the animal-human fashion show organised long ago by the Bombay Veterinary College in which dogs, cats, rabbits, goats, sheep, calves and birds were made to walk the ramp making some of them scared enough to vomit on stage.


Pet Libraries


Many years ago “unique” Pet Libraries sprouted up in a few cities of India and were unthinkingly – and enthusiastically – supported by animal lovers. They took pride in loaning live creatures like dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, tortoise, fish, snakes and birds, all given swanky names. The whole affair was dealt with no differently from borrowing books from a library. The “pets” went through enormous psychological strain, being continuously shifted from one home to another and handled by umpteen humans. The resultant insecurity was bad for the animals and the children they came in contact with. Realising the adjustment problems which may have arisen in the long run, turning to total disrespect for living creatures – first animal, then human – the Pet Libraries like the one launched by the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum in Kolkata, were convinced by BWC to close down.

Page last updated on 15/01/22