Thousands of rabbits have been used for science in NZ
In 2020 (the most recent data we have), 1,055 rabbits were used for science in NZ.1 A shocking 97% of these 1,055 rabbits were killed. An additional 142 rabbits were bred for science, never used and subsequently killed. The percentage of rabbits who died or were killed after being used for science has never been below 85% in the last decade.2
Rabbits are commonly used for animal experimentation around the globe. They are sadly used for practical reasons (rather than scientific). For example:
- Rabbits are gentle, docile animals = they are easy to handle.
- They breed easily and quickly = they are readily available test subjects.
- They are larger than mice and rats = they provide a larger amount of sample material per animal.
How rabbits are used in science
Rabbits are the main animals used for testing chemicals and the production of biological agents (such as antibodies) in NZ.
Antibodies are a type of cell within the immune system of the body. Many laboratory techniques use antibodies for a range of different tests, for example, biological quality control and toxicity testing.
The use of animal-derived antibodies is increasingly questioned, with animal-free produced antibodies being recommended by the EU Joint Research Centre.3
Rabbits in NZ have been used for:
- The production of antibodies for laboratory use (mentioned above)
- Drug research
- safety testing
- corrosion and irritation testing
- metabolic testing
- Teaching purposes in schools
- Conservation research, because they are an unwanted species.
- specifically testing susceptibility to Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV)
- Medical research
- testing surgical procedures
- testing imaging equipment
- modelling human conditions (glaucoma, heart failure, sinusitis, atherosclerosis)
- harvesting organs for laboratory measurements
- Basic biological research into how
- vital signs change during intercourse
- bones grow
- the digestive tract moves
Fun facts about rabbits
Rabbits are beautiful and smart animals. Not mere lab tools to be used in harmful experiments. Read on to learn something new about these brilliant animals!
Eager eyes and ears
Rabbits can sleep with their eyes open.4 Suspicious movement within their field of vision will wake them up in time to make a run for it.
With their eyes on the side of the slender heads, they have almost 360 degrees of vision.5 Also, they can turn their ears independently, listening in to both what’s in front and what’s behind them.
Rabbits can easily jump over 2 feet high. According to Guinness World Records, Mimrelunds Tösen of Denmark was able to jump 99.5 cm off the ground.6 The farthest rabbit jump was achieved by Yabo of Denmark with 3 metres.7
Rabbits have a truly excellent sense of smell. Structural changes during sniffing increase the particle flow to smell receptors, and the exhaled air is lead through the middle of the nostril to ensure undisrupted smelling.8 The rabbit’s brain when processing scent also fires more frequently in reaction to smell than the brain of a cat.9
Stomachs of steel
Rabbits can’t vomit due to a uniquely strong muscle structure at their stomach entrance.10 They do fart, though (just in case you were wondering!).11
They show happiness by doing the “binky”, a behaviour in which they jump in the air, twist their body, and spin around.12 There is some evidence that rabbits might experience voice changes as they age, just like us.13 Imagine your older pet rabbit speaking to you in a grumpy-old-man voice.
Rabbits have individual personalities and temperaments, which you can tell as early as two weeks old.14 They are able to recognise individual humans by sight and smell.15
They are capable of learning learn tricks fast. The Finnish rabbit Taawi holds the world record for most tricks by a rabbit in one minute with 20 tricks.16 There is a youtube video of the successful attempt below.
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Whānau – Family