Turning rabbits loose in Texas
The rabbit that has been released into the “wild,” be that in an urban or suburban neighborhood or a rural area, doesn’t stand a chance. What the rabbit does have is two chances at death:
Setting Your Pet Rabbit Loose Doesn’t Make Her “Free.” It Makes Her “Food.” (PDF flyer) 1. That he will die a long and painful death, suffering beyond our imagination;
2. That he will die a quick and painful death.
In Texas, rabbits are prey to many species. Rabbits who are turned loose in urban areas become prey to hawks, owls, cats, dogs, and raccoons. All of these can be present even in the center of cities. In Austin, raccoons are known to visit yards the length of Shoal Creek. A raccoon was seen coming up through a storm drain at 49th/Grover off Burnet Road, and a red-tailed hawk swooped down to snatch a small black kitten at 49th/Shoal Creek. Wildlife Rescue of Austin routinely receives calls about raccoons as well as birds of prey from all parts of Austin.
Rabbits who are released in the countryside have these and other predators with which to contend. Depending on the part of Texas, predators include cougars, coyotes, foxes, alligators, and snakes. Both urban and rural-released rabbits also are subjected to scorpions, spiders, and fire ants; parasites such as fleas, ticks, and tapeworms; and automobiles.
Not only does the rabbit not stand a chance against predators, the Texas weather alone can kill them. For example, rabbits housed outdoors in Texas summers must have a block of ice (usually frozen in a plastic container) to lie up against, or they die from heat stress. They have been observed to sit out in the rain until they are soaked. Sudden weather changes such as cold fronts stress rabbits, leading to illness. Many lack a good burrow-building instinct which is needed for protection from wind, rain, cold, and predators.
If the rabbit survives predators, parasites, and weather, starvation will do him in. He has been raised on pellets and then abandoned with nothing but grasses and weeds to eat, many of which are poisonous. Lack of water, especially in the drier parts of Texas, is also a problem.
So, if you are thinking of releasing your rabbit because you no longer want him or because you want him to have a more natural lifestyle in your backyard, THINK AGAIN. The least you can do for him is to take him to a shelter where he may have a chance at a “forever” home or where he will be cared for in his last days before being given a relatively painless death compared to what he will suffer outdoors.
For information on rabbit care and behavior and on how to find another home for your rabbit, call House Rabbit Resource Network at 512-444-3277.
by Carolyn Mixon, HRS Educator
Carolyn Mixon is a founding member of the House Rabbit Resource Network in Austin, TX and a House Rabbit Society Educator. She has lived with house rabbits since 1988 and in 1992, brought baby Emily home to Gracie and Jessie, both rescued rabbits. Through Carolyn’s guidance, Emily has become a responsible child who has empathy and knowledge for animals far beyond her years.