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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Observing the Rabbits

With Lawrence away, Bow and I are pretty much on our own, and we are left without too much external company. But people do still come by. On Friday the lady from the store brought over some bananas and some apples for Bow. She also stopped to chat. "I had to be careful not to run over all those bunnies you have on your property," she said. I knew what she meant. The rabbits on my property tend to run in zigzags on the road every time a car drives by. It seems to make it more likely that they will get run over than if they simply moved out of the way, but they have their own reasons for acting that way.

I asked her if she had that many rabbits on her property, and she said that she had a cat, so there were fewer rabbits. But on my land the rabbits are proliferating, and they act in strange and mysterious ways. They don't simply run away when you chase them. They lead you on a merry dance.

The above is a four minute video that I took maybe a week ago, but it took me all day yesterday to upload. There were three rabbits out and visible at the start, but the littlest rabbit ran north, and the other two took turns leading me on a merry chase. Why didn't they just run straight for the woods in order to lose me? What were they actually thinking?

My daughter asked me the other day why I keep chasing the rabbits. Did I want to catch and tame them? No, of course not. I have my hands full with Bow. I want to learn to understand the rabbits, not to possess or to change them.

But, unlike the Animal Rights Activists I know, I don't want to tell other people what they should do with their rabbits. Some people keep rabbits for pets. Some people raise rabbits for meat. Some hunt rabbits, and some wear rabbit fur coats. And I think all of that is okay, if they are doing it with their own rabbits on their own land. What I would dearly object to would be someone entering on my land and doing it to my rabbits.

I think it is great that there are ethologists who study chimpanzees in the wild. What is not so great is when those ethologists declare that chimpanzees should exist only in the wild or in sanctuaries. It is not good at all that these ethologists start dictating exactly what should be done to or with chimpanzees, as if there were only one way to live.

I feel the same way about humans, by the way. There are wild humans who have not yet learned to count. Should we round them all up and force them into a modern school? I think that would be sad. But by the same token, this does not mean that I want to tell all parents not to send their children to school.

There is more than one way to be. You can be a wild rabbit. You can be a wild chimp. You can be a wild human. Or you can be domesticated. Who should choose? Those born wild, should be left alone, unless they choose civilization.

Those of us born domesticated, like Bow and me, need to be left alone to live our domestic life. Unless, of course, we find a way to become wild again.

 Most of us recognize that missionaries and social workers are not always the best influence on indigenous populations. But it is hard to interact with others without interfering. And lots of bad things can happen when cultures clash. When someone from the outside comes and says "Let me help you" one has to be wary. We have to ask, is this help going to make us happier? Or is it going to make us more like him?



  1. Hi Aya. I too believe in live and let live, let others be themselves. I think your view of the bunnies on your land is very poetic. "They don't simply run away when you chase them. They lead you on a merry dance."

    1. Thanks, Ann. Those rabbits do seem to know some things that I don'r, and I wish I could learn some of those things without changing them at all.

  2. I have often wondered why bunnies seem to run in their random patterns. Prey avoidance, I suppose. My birds fly zigzags, banking left & right, up & down and every which way when a Cooper's hawk is hot on their tail. It really is a sight to behold to see the skill involved to escape a predator. Some win, some lose.
    I am sick to death of people trying to tell everyone else what they should or should not do with anything in their lives. There seems to be a current environment where a lot of people are trying to make us all part of the collective and all act, eat & speak the same. What a boring world that will be if they succeed. Not to mention, violent. A lot of us won't comply with that.

    1. Hi, Kathy. I wonder whether those prey avoidance maneuvers, both in birds and rabbits, are preset or change with experience. There are times when a zigzag might be useful and other times not so much.

      Yes, they do seem to want everyone to do exactly the same thing. That would put us all in the same boat, and if the boat capsizes, we are all sunk. Diversity of choices is not just the best thing for individuals. It's also best for survival of whole species.

  3. Aya, your question of preset prey avoidance is one I've often pondered. My example is anecdotal of course, but when my baby martins are ready to leave the nest, they must leave it flying. If they fall to the ground and I find them first, they get put back in the nest to try again. If not, they get eaten by some predator. If they are able to fly, they always have a group of adult martins fly with them, escorting them & there will always be one or two harassing the new fledgling. After years of observing this harassing behavior and asking "why?", I now believe that the adults teach the new fledge right out of the gate how to maneuver and avoid predators. I have had the misfortune of observing a Cooper's hawk fly right into my colony when the babies are fledging and chase a newly fledged young one from his perch on top of the gourd rack, into the trees. The escorting adults will give chase and harangue the hawk to try to distract and stop him. But, from what I've seen, the young one did not do as much zigzagging as the adults would do if they were similarly being chased. However, and it's hard to know for sure, of course, the adults seem to be hot on his tail, "telling" him how to outrun the hawk. But of course, that's a human's perspective from observing the chase. Bob has seen a newly fledged young one also head in a straight line towards the field - and it didn't turn out so well for him. The hawk snatched him right out of the air.
    It's hard to watch this, but at the same time, I am fascinated and feel very fortunate to watch nature at its most raw. Everyone must eat I suppose.

    1. Hi, Kathy. That is very interesting. From what you are telling me, this prey avoidance behavior is learned, rather than completely automated as an instinct. But I suppose that after they learn it, it is hard for them to modify that habit, if the situation calls for a straight line flight.

      Yes, everyone has to eat. This culling by the hawks probably keeps the martin population healthier, even if it means death to some individuals.