Bunny is worth it!


Spain is his pet terrier…

His name is already a whole story. From a scientific point of view, he Oryctolagus cumiculus. Translate hare (lakes) nornik (from sandstone oruhes), a representative of the lagomorph family, and not rodents, as one might think. The old French kept only the second part, cuniculus (underground gallery, mine): here are our animals, christened konnin or councils in our regions, giving rise to many obscene puns. Hence the radical decision in the 17th century to adopt a completely different word, a priori less connotated: “rabbit”, taken from an Iberian term.
Because it is in Spain that his homeland really is. Rarity: This is the only breeding animal from Europe. Very sedentary, hating water and therefore unable to cross rivers, he even remained for a long time limited to the Iberian Peninsula, where he bred. It was here that the Phoenicians 1000 BC discovered this strange beast resembling one of their small mammals, the hyrax ( sapphan in their language). And call the peninsula “the island of Safans” (I-Safan-in)which the Latins would translate as Hispania. The same Spain that the poet Catullus calls “cuculus” and from where the Romans, who “exported” rabbits to the Mediterranean islands and launched the first free-range breeding – leporaria – in passing borrowed the unpleasant practice of consuming rabbit embryos (laurics) taken from the womb mother.

Grabbed by the collar

The same dish, much later, did not scare away our medieval monks either, because it allowed them to break Great Lent and this annoying obligation to fast. Under this false pretext: the meat of newborn rabbits is of… aquatic origin! As a result, it was the monasteries who were the first in France to come up with the idea of ​​placing these wild rabbits in cages.
For completely different reasons, the lords followed suit and developed a new feudal right, which was abolished in 1789: varrens or varnn (from the Germanic verb meaning “to hold”). Clearly, spaces of more or less closed woods, where rabbits are protected from any predator, but to be grabbed by the collar there, caught with strings and other traps, knowing that their flesh enjoys a certain prestige. Thus the beginning of domestication in this form of free-range breeding, when even the cages that came later are exclusively dedicated to supplying closed burrows with juveniles… Perhaps selection at the breeder level even begins there. , depending on coat color: white, black, piebald and silver gray.

Mutant from Ankara

But in fact, large-scale domestication really took place in France only in the 19th century, when the rabbit fully appeared on the farm. The rabbit holes were almost gone, giving way to cages, a kind of pantry close at hand. Along with this development of meat rabbits, it should be noted that breeding for the fur industry was also developed by the angora rabbit, a mutant bred in Turkey by the British, who expected to maintain a monopoly on it. It was a waste of time: despite the embargo, the sailors took out several couples who arrived by boat in Bordeaux in 1723. Then they said that they brought them back … from Angora, more precisely from Ankara. Within a few decades, the number of farms increased and France successfully began exporting wool and then increased the number of spinning mills, rising to the top spot in the world for a long time before being overtaken by Chile, Argentina and China, especially in countries where breeding conditions are currently deplorable. time stands out a lot.

Wild rabbits on the teeth

But let’s go back to the 19th century to see what happened to wild rabbits. Hated by farmers at all times, and now deprived of the protection of the famous closed holes, they received the unenviable status of hunting game under Napoleon III. Very fashionable hunting here and in exotic countries where we had the unfortunate idea of ​​introducing it, giving birth to real rabbit hordes that devastated New Zealand, Kerguelen, Australia and other select terriers … Hunting was not enough, so another brilliant idea was born on dawn of the 20th century: the myxomatosis inoculation, discovered in Brazil several decades earlier. Here, take this attempt by Dr. Armand-Delisle in France in 1952… A stunning “success”: it only takes a few months for all of France to be infested – 90% dead wild rabbits and virtual extinction of caged rabbits – and that England suffers in turn. At the end of the decade, there was no corner of Europe where this disease would not exist. A pathology that is still present despite existing vaccines. Since then, wild rabbits have become here and there more cautious. Because since the late 1980s, they have also died en masse from the consequences of a viral hemorrhagic disease that rages from China to Australia through France.

meat of war

Regularly plagued by these same ailments, the rabbit meat sector also experienced other hardships associated with its golden age at the end of the 20th century: because after the effervescence of breeding creations in the early years, cages and poultry farms did multiply at a great rate, even in workyards. and, on a completely different scale, in Soviet state farms, where entire convoys of rabbits were sent from Germany in the 1980s and 1920s, both to feed people and to clothe them. The conflict of 1939-45 testifies to the spread of crop production, the shortage obliges. Even Japan does it. But with the advent of peace, the rabbit, equated with “fighting meat”, left the tables of many countries, including England. However, in France and in several other countries, including Spain, the so-called rational, if not industrial, breeding began in the 1950s: wire cages, pellets, selection of strains … Except that the animal is fragile, very sensitive to sanitation and multiplies eating disorders. Rebelote, with the support of the INRA team, launched a contingency plan to revive the industry, eradicate disease, adapt diets, and improve strains.

in the saddle

A priori, this is a blessed rabbit. Even today, with its 60 million meat rabbits, France is the 2nd largest exporter (after China) and the 4th largest producer on the planet. But now, after fifteen years, things are not so rosy. First, cages have practically disappeared from farms. Then the consumption of this meat becomes less and less popular, being limited to the aging generations. It belongs to the category of poultry, not very noticeable on the shelves, it is avoided by the youngest, who prefer it, a mini version, as a pet (in England it comes right after cats and dogs…). As a result, from 1998 to 2000, his purchases decreased by 40%! Currently, the French eat only 1.3 kg per year on average.
It will not be animal welfare associations who will complain about this: they will not fail to fall into the saddle of the poultry farm, where mortality remains high (20 rabbits out of 100), where rabbits are injured on the mesh floor of cages.

The return of the cell?

In short, between the wild rabbit that is flagella and the meat rabbit that lays, will we soon see only dwarf breeds that are home-raised? Not sure. First, because traditional breeding remains in most countries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, where Hungary is in the lead. some, such as the car, including at the FAO, have understood all the interest in animals and are in favor of a big return of the cage, this total installation is so inexpensive. Because a rabbit, a polyphage, remains easy to feed without eating plant resources useful to humans; its meat is rich in protein. And if his health is fragile, he compensates with his legendary fecundity (about 40 cubs per female per year, versus 12 in a pig and 0.8 in cattle). As a result, our good old Pyrenean lagomorph is finding its way into the poorest countries through the development programs of several NGOs. This was already the case in Mexico in the early 1970s under the government’s “family package” program, which provided poor rural populations with a few females, a breeder, and some material resources. Since then, in the name of food security, the number of initiatives has increased, especially in Africa. One obstacle remains: the ability to appreciate this meat and be able to adapt it is not so common. Not forgetting that food taboos are pressing on her, whether in Jewish culture or in some Hindu sects.


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