Wild rabbits cover the entire world, from the Tropics to the Arctic, and have adjusted to living in various climates and habitats whether it be wild tundra, snow covered mountains or deserts and forests. Believe it or not, most species of wild rabbit are solitary beings, the exception is the European Rabbit (originally found in Western Europe – Southern France, Portugal and Spain); they are social creatures and live in colonies which we know as warrens. The tunnels and dens can cover a massive area with several entry and exit points, and are run by dominate males who have several females who also form their own hierachy. This same hierachy is reflected in many other mammal species. Their warning signal for impending danger is the thumping of their hind leg – remember Thumper the rabbit in the Walt Disney Film?
The domesticated rabbit originates from the European Rabbit and is now common around the world. Over 2000 years ago, ancient trading people travelling the seas realised rabbit meat was a good source of food and their fur had a trading value. Because of their journeys of exploration around the world, their rabbits were introduced to other countries and so the domestic rabbits’ history begins.
Domestication meant that the rabbit was protected from their natural predators, and the need for camouflage was no longer important and, with selective breeding from around 1700 we started to see a variety of new fur colours introduced (see section on Common Breeds). Around this time domesticated rabbits also became heavier – they no longer needed to flee from danger. By the late 1800s, rabbits were being bred to create different sizes and types of fur, as well as for different colours.