Attempts to control rabbit populations
Scientists have attempted to control populations of pest rabbit species by introducing diseases such as Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV), with varying levels of success. It must be noted that these viruses often cause a painful death for infected rabbits, with symptoms of myxomatosis including swelling and discharge from the eyes, nose and anogenital region as well as extreme lethargy making it difficult to eat and causing susceptibility to other infections such as pneumonia. Most rabbits that contract Myxomatosis die of haemorrhage and seizures within 10-14 days.
With RHDV most rabbits will die within 1-3 days of contracting the infection. In many instances the rabbit will show no external signs of the virus, however, when symptoms do present they include weight loss, swollen eyelids, paralysis, ocular haemorrhages, convulsions and fatal bloody discharge from the nose. Ultimately RHDV causes the formation of blood clots in major organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys, causing heart and respiratory failure.
Eating wild rabbit
Given the damage that rabbits do to the habitat and the rampant way in which they repopulate, it makes environmental sense to harvest rabbits from the wild for human consumption. Despite this, the vast majority of rabbits sold as meat products in Australia come from farmed rabbits (which are often raised in cages in much the same way as battery hens (see below).
One barrier is that food safety regulations prohibit the use of wild meat for human consumption unless it has been processed at an approved abattoir. This limits the ability of hunters to on-sell wild-harvested rabbit and hare to local food businesses; however, there are some specialty suppliers of wild game meat in Australia which can be found in our ‘Ethical Meat Directory’.
There may still be ethical concerns around the way rabbits are harvested in the wild, however most responsible hunters will ensure a clean shot and swift death, which is preferable in comparison to the painful and protracted death caused by viruses used to control rabbit populations or the cruel way in which they are farmed.
If you are going to indulge in meat as a treat and are willing to give rabbit a go, then we believe wild rabbit is preferable from an environmental and animals welfare perspective. Always ask questions, and if it doesn’t state that the rabbit is wild, then it has most likely been farmed.