Rabbits: A Survival Mirage?

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Pablo Edronkin

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Rabbits have been domesticated for thousands of years and many survival manuals list them as a valid source of food for survival, but is it true?

To say that you love your 'Oryctolagus cuniculus' may seem suspicious to many, and you may find yourself alone after an animated conversation if you don't explain that this is the Latin name for the common rabbit. Today many of us have rabbits for pets, but traditionally, these little animals - which are rodents, by the way - have been exploited for their furs and as food.

It is not clear when rabbits became part of domestic or farm animals; we may speak about rabbits in both ways. If your is a pet, then it is a domestic animal; rabbits destined for other things are considered farm animals.

Cooking outdors requires a diferent set of ideas and knowledge.
Cooking outdors requires a diferent set of ideas and knowledge.

Probably this took place during the Neolithic period, after the last ice age; at that time, glaciers were melting away and the climate was changing. These conditions, and probably a certain level of depredation by humans which was too much for the environment, caused the extinction of big animals such as the mammoths, forcing humans to adopt a new lifestyle instead that of nomadic hunters, living outdoors the whole time.

But the primitive man, forced to invent agriculture as starvation hit was in no position of comfort, so it is likely that these primitive men and women began trying to adapt what gave them some results in the past and incorporate such things into their own lives. And if animals were disappearing, what better way to avoid that than trap them and keep them safe?

Thus, it seems perfectly reasonable that all sorts of former preys were in the minds of these newborn farmers in order to be raised as cattle; in the case of some of those, certainly things did not work out. But with cows, sheep, pigs and indeed, rabbits, results were better.

Rabbits may represent enough food for people like Andinia, our cat.
Rabbits may represent enough food for people like Andinia, our cat.

In the beginning, it is likely that for former hunters, catching them was easier than the rest of the work, and probably they behaved in the beginning as hunters with trapped preys more than caring farmers. But a cold and famine-ridden winter would have been enough to convince them about the notion of sustainable development.

From what we know, based on archaeological information gathered in Neolithic and historic sites such as former Celtic colonies, the inhabitants of the Cyclades and other places, it became apparent that the species raised by these ancient farmers were not exactly like the ones we can see today. Pigs, cows, sheep, were of varieties that today do not exist anymore; these were substantially different to ours.

This seems to include rabbits; but let's not forget that over ten thousand years separate us from the inception of agriculture and farming, and even Roman records of their campaigns, especially those against the Gaulls, clearly describe the species found there, the local economy and many other aspects of the life of those cultures which were - peacefully or not - incorporated into their empire, and their descriptions already portrait a different picture.

Oddly enough, a number of cases have been reported in which people could not survive during seasons in which rabbit meat was their only available source for calories; this has been seen repeatedly in North America (Canada and the United States).

The reason is that while you can hunt rabbits even in large numbers, if you are trying to survive in a particularly cold environment, the energy that your body will have to spend to make your digestive tract work after you eat any given quantity of rabbit meat is greater to the number of calories that the meat of rabbits could deliver to you.

But people like you will probably end up like this.
But people like you will probably end up like this.

In other words, ostensibly perfectly nourished survivors may not understand why despite their hunting successes they slowly get thinner and finally die of starvation and hypothermia.

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