In this Chinese New Year of the Rabbit let’s be sensitive to these clever, curious animals

By John Di Leonardo 

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is upon us, and it is fitting that it is the year of the Rabbit.   

Rabbits are complex creatures, simultaneously delicate and powerful. With four powerful incisors on their upper jaw, a defining characteristic of Lagomorphs, rabbits can chew through almost anything, however, despite cartoons depicting carrots as a healthy snack for them, this sugary vegetable can easily pose deadly to them, with their high sugar content leading to GI stasis, an often-fatal condition. Similarly, while rabbits’ powerful legs and agile bodies enable them to unleash bursts of energy when threatened, they are particularly susceptible to shock when cornered and may even break their own backs with their powerful hind legs while trying to escape from a snare or other cruel trap.   

Several years ago, my partner and I got to know these complex creatures quite well following a trip to the beach. While we were used to seeing wild rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and more during our trips to David Weld Sanctuary, this day we were surprised to stumble upon three domestic bunnies abandoned on the trail. With hawks circling above and the domestic rabbits lacking camouflage or wild instincts, we quickly picked them up and brought them to safety. They were in rough shape and two of them passed days after the rescue. The third was a fighter. We adopted her and named her Louise. While her lack of a fear of predators would surely have been a death sentence in the wild, her brazen nature earned her a new friend in our rescued cat Jinkies. At first, Jinkies didn’t know what to make of her courageous new friend, but Louise’s persistence paid off and in no time at all, Jinkies the cat was grooming and cuddling her new best friend.   

With New York State legislation banning the sales of rabbits in pet stores starting in 2024 and the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act taking effect this month, rabbits are beginning to enjoy protections they’ve long deserved, however, we still have a long way to go. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) admits “animal models often fail to provide good ways to mimic disease or predict how drugs will work in humans, resulting in much wasted time and money while patients wait for therapies.” And despite revolutionary technologies like “organs on a chip” — systems containing engineered or natural miniature tissues grown inside microfluidic chips that simulate the activities, mechanics and physiological response of an entire organ or an organ system – making these types of cruel tests obsolete, experiments on rabbits continue to line the pockets of experimenters force-feeding these animals other household products or intentionally ravaging their bodies with disease. Fur farmers and trappers continue to kill rabbits by the dozens for single fur coats. Restauranteurs continue to kill bunnies for soup. And breeders continue to sell baby rabbits for Easter baskets and abandon the parents when their fragile bodies are all used up.   

For this week’s Anuvrat, I urge you to be simultaneously sensitive and strong, like a rabbit, and to pledge never to eat, wear, or consume any product that was tested on these clever, curious animals.   

John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION). He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected].

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