Wild rabbits are fast food for all kinds of predators. Only 6.5% of baby rabbits are alive a year after birth (Cowan 1987). The rest have died from shooting, predators, disease, trapping or road accidents. Rabbits breed fast and die young. They are what scientists call r- strategists (Parry 1981). Pet rabbits have the survival instincts and behaviours of their wild cousins.
The main dangers for pet rabbits in the UK are foxes, badgers, cats and occasionally dogs. Foxes, badgers and cats do their main hunting at dusk, but all three sometimes hunt during the day too. Rabbits that are kept outdoors or even those that spend some of their time outdoors are at risk.
Foxes. Don’t rely on chicken wire on the run or hutch if you are making your own. A fox can get through this. Use Twilweld aviary netting, preferably 16 gauge, from garden centres or DIY stores.”Chicken wire was designed to keep chickens in, rather than foxes out,” says Trevor Williams of the Fox Project.
Check the hutch locks. Foxes can lift latches and open swivel locks. Foxes can also dig under a run. If your run is static, you should run the Twilweld into the earth to a depth of about 8 inches at an outward angle. The other alternative is to place cheap flagstones round the edge of the run. If it is a moveable run you could move the flagstones with it, but it would probably be easier to buy a hutch on legs and put the animals there at night. If possible put up a solid fence round the garden – foxes are less likely to go for something they can’t see. Artificial tunnels and pipes will also offer protection inside the run.
Do not leave rabbits free in the garden unsupervised in any area that can be visited by foxes, badgers, cats or dogs. In a CottonTails study of premature pet rabbit death, 7% were killed by foxes (Guard, 2012).
Badgers. Badgers will eat hutched rabbits and once they learn to do so will come back for more. Get rid of latches and put on bolts. Foxes can lift latches, and so do badgers occasionally. “You need to add weldmesh or chain link, with wire that is two and a half milimetres in diameter. Badgers can get through chicken wire.” advises Penny Cresswell Lewns of the Badger Consultancy (www.badgerconsultancy.co.uk). “Keep the chicken wire in place because the chain link will be too wide a mesh to keep the rabbits inside.”
Cats. Domestic cats will usually not take on a giant or large rabbit but they will certainly hunt and kill smaller ones. They are less likely to push through chicken wire like foxes or badgers, but will take a rabbit that is just left grazing on the lawn. So unless you are in the garden to supervise, you must keep your rabbit safe in a run. For details of garden fencing to keep out cats look here.
Dogs. Dogs will catch and kill all sizes of rabbits.
Buzzards. Would take rabbits that are grazing free in the garden.
Cowan, D. P. (1987), ‘Patterns of mortality in a free-living rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population,’ in ed. Harris, S., Mammal Population Studies, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 59-77.
Guard, M., (2012), ‘Study into Premature Rabbit Death,’ CottonTails. Accessed at http://www.cottontails-rescue.org.uk/prematuredeath.asp. Downloaded 21 December 2012.
Parry, G. D., (1981), ‘The Meanings of r- and K- selection,’ Oecologia, 48, 260-265.