Sunday, July 7, 2024

From Wild to Domestic: The Global Journey of Rabbits

Rabbits, members of the mammalian order Lagomorpha, have a rich evolutionary history dating back approximately 40 million years to the late Eocene epoch. Initially native to the Iberian Peninsula, rabbits spread throughout the Mediterranean region due to the activities of Phoenician traders. The visiting Phoenicians referred to part of Iberia as "I-shephan-im," meaning "land of the rabbits," highlighting the area's abundance of these creatures.

By the Roman Period, rabbits were bred and kept in captivity for their meat and fur, with complete domestication achieved around AD 1500. French monasteries played a significant role in domesticating rabbits between AD 600 and 1000. By the twelfth century, domestic rabbits had reached Britain, where their young were considered a delicacy. From there, they spread throughout the British Isles and to other islands in the northeast Atlantic.

The global distribution of rabbits accelerated with European exploration and colonization. In 1654, rabbits were introduced to South Africa by Dutch settlers. By the mid-eighteenth century, they had reached Chile, and in 1764, they were brought to the Falkland Islands. British explorer James Cook introduced rabbits to New Zealand in 1777, and in 1788, they arrived in Australia with the First Fleet.

During the Industrial Revolution, the movement of people from rural areas to towns included bringing rabbits, a vital food source. A pair of rabbits can produce up to 90 kilograms of meat annually, making them an important resource for urban populations.

The 19th century marked a significant shift for rabbits as they became popular in Victorian Britain for shows and competitions. This era saw the beginning of selective breeding for various traits, leading to the diverse array of domestic rabbit breeds seen today. This shift from primarily utilitarian purposes to recreational and ornamental breeding illustrates the evolving relationship between humans and rabbits, reflecting broader societal changes.
From Wild to Domestic: The Global Journey of Rabbits

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