Some years ago, the Government of India decided to encourage rabbit farming. Bureaucrats made dozens of trips abroad to see how other countries grew rabbits and did their rounds of nightclubs and shopping malls. When announcing that the government was going to promote rabbits for meat, nothing was obviously learn’t from the environmental disaster that rabbit farming has caused in most countries.
After two decades most of India refuses to eat rabbit meat. But thousands of people, encouraged by illiterate politicians and the nonsensical Agriculture Ministry, have been pushed into starting small rabbit growing factories encouraged by the subsidies given and the promise of a buyback. No breeder is trained to handle or understand rabbits. They are told that they can ‘grow’ them anywhere with any food in any weather.
The government touts it as an activity that can supplement one’s income. The slipshod, haphazard way in which rabbits are bred makes the suffering of these delicate animals intense as they die quickly, and some foolish yokel who thought he/she would spend the rest of his life watching them mate, proliferate and turn into meat is now in debt to a bank. An average unit folds in 18 months and the victim, apart from the rabbit, is the tribal conned in the name of ‘self-employment’.
These rabbits are not Indian rabbits. It is forbidden to catch, breed or kill any Indian hare as they are protected under the Wildlife Act. Rabbits were imported into the country in 1977 when some idiot of a Minister in the first Janata Government imported rabbits from Poland, New Zealand and Russia and established a Central Research Station to encourage rabbit farming. Twenty years later, even though rabbit farming associations have sprung up all over India, most breeders admit that the experiment has been a failure.
But the cruelty continues. One of the main websites on Rabbit Farming in India giving guidelines to Indians on Rabbit farming reads: “Rabbit Farming can be done anywhere at farm, backyard, on home terrace. You can feed almost anything to the rabbit including waste vegetables from the market, tree leaves, cattle grass or even kitchen scrap. Rabbits eat their faeces in the early hours of morning directly from their anus through lips. Thus replenish vitamins. No skilled labour is required for this project. Rabbits deliver 6-8 babies every 30 days when she is six months old and 15-20 babies every 30 days in her second year. In 5 years she will deliver 34 times minimum. Rabbits are not affected by climate conditions or diseases. They never create nuisance by way of abnormal sound and bad odour. Rabbits can be grown in cages. As such, it is quite suitable to grow rabbits in the high population prevailing township areas and in the backyard of the houses. Slaughter weight of rabbit is about 2 kg, which can be achieved in 12 to 15 weeks even though life span is 7-8 years.’
All rubbish. Rabbits are very picky eaters, fall ill very easily, do not eat their faeces unless they are lacking something in their diet, need lots of space, smell like hell and die when the temperature is unregulated.
Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC) sent an expedition to the All India Rabbit Farming Institute (AIRFI) in Pune which trains people on how to breed rabbits for meat. The AIRFI also sells rabbits to the trainees and offers to buy back meat. In reality hundreds of small and marginal farmers have been cheated by similar institutes which never bought back rabbits or meat. This is how this training institute treats the rabbits: ‘The rabbits were crowded on an open terrace in the sweltering heat. The terrace had a tattered sheet of plastic on top. A tap on the terrace was leaking and the dirty water collected in pools around the rabbits. A bag of cauliflower leaves was left open on one side and leaves which were obviously days old were scattered all over the floor.
Most of India still refuses to eat rabbit meat. But thousands of people, encouraged by illiterate politicians and the nonsensical Agriculture Ministry, have been pushed into starting small rabbit growing factories encouraged by the subsidies given and the promise of a buyback. No breeder is trained to handle or understand rabbits. They are told that they can ‘grow’ them anywhere with any food in any weather.
On the second visit to the institute, BWC found that the rabbits had been moved to a dark, unventilated room. There were 5-6 rabbits crammed into each cage. The cages were so small the animals could not move. Three long bamboo poles supported by 6 gas cylinders and the cages rested on these poles – the slightest movement by a rabbit would have sent the cage crashing down. The cages were wire mesh on the bottom as well – the rabbits’ feet were cut and sore. Rabbit droppings and urine littered the floor under the cages and the room stank. One rabbit was kept separately as he was sick. The BWC inspectors were told that the Institute did not have doctors. The owner told the team that their rabbits cost nothing to keep, did not require medical attention.’
The team visited Vijaylakshmi Hi Tech Farms in Satara, Maharashtra. This ‘Hi Tech’ factory keeps the animals in crowded dirty cages and feeds them vegetable waste thrown away from the vegetable markets. A rabbit has to have absolutely fresh vegetable material – a mix of vegetables, leaves, grains. Filthy waste picked up by trash removers is death for them. Fifty per cent of rabbits die from infection due to contaminated feed.
The female is mated when she is just 4 months old and when she can’t have seven litters a year anymore, which means a state of constant pregnancy, she is killed – she is usually only 18 months old and has already produced 100 children. Annually about 55 per cent of the females die of illness anyway. The males are kept for about 2 years and then killed.
There is a high death rate among young rabbits. 15 per cent of the babies die at birth, and 10 per cent of them die when they are taken away from their mothers. Infants destined for the meat trade are killed at just 8-11 weeks as soon as they reach a weight of 2 kg.
These gentle, friendly animals will never experience fresh air, grass under their feet or be able to run and jump. They are housed in filthy, wire mesh cages raised a metre from the ground, often stacked two or three tiers high. They live in cages with a height of only 38 cm with the floor space of one foolscap paper.
The small cage sizes restrict movement resulting in poor development of the thigh bone. Adults suffer distortions of the backbone. Respiratory and skin infections are common as is diarrhoea and urine burns. Many have injuries from
fighting, ripped ears, broken bones and bites, etc. The mesh flooring of the cages damages the feet resulting in abscesses. The stench of ammonia from the urine-soaked floors irritates the eyes and leads to painful
infections. No vets exist on any of these ‘farms’.
Slaughter methods vary. Pulled out by their ears, some animals are killed by being hit over the back of the head with a stick before having their throats slit. Some struggle for minutes as they bleed to death. Others are forced onto a table and have their heads cut off. Some are simply killed by repeated blows to the head. All this is in full view of other rabbits. Some are shot in the head with a handheld electrical device. They can be seen twitching, struggling, shaking and screaming with their eyes wide open before they die.
At the end of all this cruelty what happens? Since no one wants to eat rabbit meat, this meat is sold to roadside meat shops cheaply and they sell it as chicken!
What else happens: hundreds of rabbit farmers have gone bankrupt, especially in Haryana. They took loans, built sheds, bought the rabbits from shady companies who took out ads and then when the animal died, they got no help at all from these companies or from the government. There is a list of bankrupt farmers from Haryana on the Internet.