Some Rabbit History For You…
Rabbits date back to the European rabbit, which was accidentally discovered on the coast of Spain, around 1200 BC, by Phoenician sailors, an ancient civilization that sailed around the Southern Mediterranean coasts on Galley ships
They thought the animal they saw was the same as their homeland Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), and gave it the name ‘i-shepan-ham’ (land or island of hyraxes). Some say, that’s where the name Hispania (Spain), derived from.
The Romans played a big part in rabbit history. When they occupied Spain in around 200 BC they cottoned on to the fact that rabbits were great sources of meat and fur.
The Roman emperor Servius Sulpicius Galba (5 BC – AD 69),even issued a coin on which Spain is represented with a rabbit at her feet. Although semi-domestication started in the Roman period, in this initial phase rabbits were kept in large walled pens and were allowed to breed freely.
The Romans held their rabbits in high regard and respected their usefulness. When the Romans invaded Britain in AD 43 they brought their precious bundles with them and that’s how they got to the UK.
In the 5th Century, Catholic monks, living in the Champagne region of France, were believed to be the first people to truly domesticate rabbits, which they raised within their monastery walls. The monks lived in seclusion growing most of what they needed to survive.
In one of their vows to God, they abstained from meat during Lent, (and this is the bit that gets me), they were allowed to eat fish. Fish being difficult to raise in the middle of a monastery, Pope Gregory I (in 600 A.D.), officially classified laurice as fish. (Laurice was unborn and new born rabbit). How handy for them!
By keeping rabbits housed in a controlled environment they were successful at selective breeding, changing the size, shape and fur colour.
Thus the keeping of rabbits began. Of course rabbits didn’t live in their homes as pets, but this was a start as it afforded the rabbit the appellation of being a valuable and useful resource to humans.
The continued domestication of rabbits was a very middle class pursuit. By the Victorian era, new breeds were emerging and rabbits were bred not for their meat, wool, fur, or laboratory use, they were being exhibited as show animals.
The Fancy – was the breeding of ‘fancy’ animals as pets and curiosity. The term ‘fancy’ was originally applied to long eared ‘lop’ rabbits, as the lop rabbits were the first rabbits bred for exhibition. They were first admitted to agricultural shows in England in the 1820s.
As the rabbit fancy developed, rabbit fanciers began to sponsor rabbit exhibitions and fairs in Western Europe and the United States. Breeds were created and modified for the added purpose of exhibition.
There are over 150 breeds of rabbits to date and just as many colours yet many are going extinct here at the Bingley show there will be approximately 40 different breeds of rabbit and around 60 different colour type. From the smallest the Polish (2.1/2lbs) to the largest Continental Giant (50lbs)
Come visit our rabbit marquee and be amazed by the variety and colours of an animal that has been part of our history for thousands of years, ask question you will find a wealth of information on the care upkeep and welfare of one of our favour animals.
Mr M Maran, Rabbit Section Secretary