Black in tooth and claw

Just a brief nature note today. Back in 2015, in a post on genes, I mentioned the serendipity of noticing a wild black rabbit out of my study window as I was writing it.

To be honest, it wasn’t my first such sighting locally, as a few years before I saw a similar one on a couple of occasions at the other end of the ridge on which we live, maybe half a mile away. A quick internet search shows that they do occur from time to time, there most notably being a longstanding population of them on Dartmoor, the wild national park at the other end of Devon. But they’re unusual, to say the least, in this melanotic form.

Well, a couple of weeks ago we spotted a young one not only on our spread, but evidently living under my workshop. Here it is :

Trail camera photo Jon Garvey

It appears to be the only blackie in a litter of ordinary bunnies (though we may possible have spotted a second, yet to be confirmed). We made jokes about how it would be bad form to shoot him when the food shortages really kick in, and hoped we might get a domestic population of melanotic rabbits to boast about.

Yesterday, on the way to feed the chickens, I had a close encounter with Sooty. The hens are currently in their summer quarters, which I reach through the gate to their winter enclosure. I noticed a small black shape lying doggo by the fence, and as I approached the bunny bolted to the open gate and under the workshop. I suspected he’d slipped in through a gap and been unable to find his way out.

Sadly, later in the day when I went to shut the hens in, there on the path lay Sooty, dead and stiff. Did he die of the shock of meeting me? Had he become dehydrated during his stay in the chicken run? Or did he die of something else (not myxomatosis. on which I am a slight authority having worked in a pest control laboratory once). The last possibility is increased, I think, by Charlie the labrador finding a conventionally-coloured dead bunny of similar size in our lane the day before. Does any reader know what young rabbits die from when they’re not being predated? Anyway I laid Sooty to rest in the wild bluebell wood on the other side of our Devon bank boundary. It wouldn’t do for Charlie to come across him – he’s black too and might become distressed.

It being Holy Week there seems almost to be a theological lesson in the Easter Rabbit which bucked the norm, paid by its death, and was disposed of “outside the city.” Jesus, of course, was the ultimate black sheep, or black rabbit, because he was pure light. You get the idea, if you read yesterday’s post.

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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5 Responses to Black in tooth and claw

  1. Jon Garvey says:

    Curiouser and curiouser (but less symbolically). Another young bunny, of the usual colouration, found dead in almost exactly the same position, and the same pose, as the other today. Sounds like some kind of epidemic disease to me.

  2. Gordon says:

    Maybe masks would help?

  3. Peter Hickman says:

    When in 2005 we purchased our current residence in Scotland, the previous owner had placed a large number of statuettes and stone pots across the garden (which is a substantial area of a mixture of woodland and lawns). There were no flowers apart from a rose bed. He said drily, “Rabbits don’t eat statues”. We found out why he said that when we created a number of beds and planted them up with flowers and shrubs.

    It has been a constant battle to keep out the rabbits. They love young shoots. So the garden ambience has been compromised somewhat by low-level fencing around the beds – at least until the plants get substantial enough to resist the rabbits. Even so, every year we have to replace some old stock with new plants which need to be protected. We open our garden for a day every Summer under the Scottish Gardens Scheme, so in advance the fencing comes down, and afterwards goes back up.

    I have a .22 rifle which, from a bedroom window, I use to reduce the rabbit population a little. But it is not enough. After a few shots the survivors scuttle off into their burrows in the woods. We have a neighbour who tried catching some with his ferret, but it wasn’t very successful. Last year I employed an expert who came at dusk with his night vision equipment, and in three days he disposed of 75 in total. We had our own single black rabbit until he came.

    The numbers are presently way down, but I see that they are starting to increase again. Breeding like rabbits, of course. We get a resurgence of myxomatosis every few years. It’s a horrible disease, but I can’t help feeling a twinge of gratitude when it re-appears. All that said, I quite like rabbits. If only they would stop digging holes in the lawn and stay away from our flowers.

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