Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rare Hare Air Lift 2010

Our latest adventure involved sending some American Chinchilla rabbits to a fellow breeder in Canada.

Yep, Canada. We are now an “international incident”!

The logistics itself were an adventure, and I won’t go into too much detail about the headaches I got while working with the company we used to book the flight. I did decide that I can give myself headaches better than anyone else, so the next time, I’m taking it on myself. If I’m going to be driven to drinking or swearing, I want to be able to blame myself.

Here are some photos of the process.

The crate looked like we were shipping rabid squirrels before we were done with it. 17 zip ties, three square feet of hardware cloth, a handful of washers and bolts, and these dangerous animals were ready to go.

The Gang of Three

The rabbits are eagerly anticipating their new adventure. I think.

And here they are arrived in their new home. The doe does look a bit jet lagged, doesn’t she?

Robert reports that they seem to be settling in nicely, none the worse for wear for an extra night on the road. We are super excited about exchanging these does for some of his stock later this spring. Our rabbits couldn't be in better hands.

One interesting wrinkle that occured, when Robert picked his rabbits up at the airport, the customs agent was flummoxed by the notion that we had just given these rabbits to Robert. He didn't even seem to get the notion that it was intended as a reciprocal trade.

As any of you that work with rare breeds knows, finding new blood isn’t an easy task. These little pockets of diversity aren’t around the corner, down the street, or often even in the neighboring states. Heck, even in the same country!

It involves a lot of planning, travel, and yes, money. It isn’t a task for the faint hearted, or the easily discouraged. It’s a commitment, in every sense of the word, because some days, you will wonder if you should be committed.

But, when you build relationships with other breeders, with like minded folks who get it, get the importance of genetic conservation, why it's important, and why we have to do it, and are willing to go the extra mile with you, it makes everything worthwhile.

Here's to another "international incident!"

Thursday, March 4, 2010


“Are American Chinchilla rabbits really on the endangered species list?”

Short Answer: No.
Long Answer: Sort of.
We are used to the concept of endangered species. We’ve all heard stories of the decline of the Bald Eagle, the Siberian Tiger, Black Rhino, Grey Wolf, Spotted Owl, etc. The list is unfortunately far too long, and not getting any shorter. These animals are classified as endangered by their species.

A species is defined as a group of animals, a subdivision of the taxonomic classification of genus that are closely related, physically similar, and can interbreed with one another but not with members of another species.

A breed, on the other hand, is a further subdivision of the species classification. All domestic rabbits in the United States are members of the same genus and species, Oryctolagus cuniculus. (Don’t ask me how to pronounce it.)

So, while all domestic rabbits are the same species, no one would ever confuse a Netherland Dwarf with a Flemish Giant. The differences between the Netherland Dwarf and the Flemish Giant are obvious, and evidence of the further subdivision contained within breeds.

New breeds can be created. New species are discovered.

Breeds are unique to domestic animals, a legacy of the 10,000 year old relationship between man and domestic animals. (The closest thing that compares in wild animals is the subspecies classification, but let’s not muddy the water with that right now.)

There are no endangered species of domestic animal. Cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and rabbits, as classified by species, number in the tens of millions of individuals.

What is endangered are certain breeds of domestic animal.

It’s easy, especially in a relatively rural environment; to be so used to the presence of domestic species they seem to escape our notice and concern. But each breed contains a treasure chest of genetic diversity. Diversity honed by the environment, geography, by man’s selection and countless other factors, making each breed unique and valuable.

Unfortunately, recent trends in agriculture have placed many breeds of livestock, rabbits included, in the same waters as endangered species. Numbers so reduced, that only careful management can prevent their loss.

That’s where conservation breeders and organizations such as the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy come in. The ALBC annually publishes a Conservation Priority List, grouping the animals by species, and then further breaking the species down by breed, and then ranking them according to priority. You can see more information here.

The list is a working document, and is reviewed annually. If necessary changes can be made in categories, moving breeds from Rare to Threatened, or worse, from Threatened to Critical as data comes in on registrations, births, deaths, etc. A breed in the Critical category can be thought of as being in similar jeopardy as a endangered species, numbers so few that serious action needs to be taken to prevent their loss.

It isn’t a perfect document, or an exact science. It isn’t supposed to be. It’s simply a tool to be used in making decisions where to expend resources, and give breeders and idea where to focus their energy. And while no species of domestic animal is likely to wind up on the endangered species list, hopefully we can help to keep certain unique and valuable breeds from sliding further into the category of critically rare breeds.

Awareness is the first step.