Coming to Terms with Animal Cannibalism


One of Amelia's Cute Rabbits

It was my task, this last week, to care for our daughters rabbits while she was out of town. Amelia breeds Netherland Dwarf rabbits- cute little two pound balls of fluff with tiny ears and puss-in-boots eyes.  Amelia loves to make thorough lists, so she left me with detailed instructions, including nick- names (I guess in case the rabbits didn’t recognize when I called them by their regular names), of all of their needs. Two of the females, Ariadne and Kassandra (aka Kass), were due to kindle (that’s rabbit-speak for giving birth) while Amelia was away.

So you probably have all heard that rabbits will occasionally eat their babies, right? Well, knowing that and actually coming upon the act in progress are two very different matters I am here to tell you.  I am pretty tough. I can steel myself to the euthanasia of a suffering animal or the beheading of a meat chicken, but this left me horrified and feeling ill.  I won’t go into too many details, but let me sum it up by sharing that I didn’t imagine that the baby would be vocally protesting the act.

Amelia assured me, later on the phone, that there was nothing I could have done. The doe (that means girl rabbit, girl goat, and girl deer) went on to have three other kits, which are at this writing all still in one piece…  Mia explained that sometimes the first baby delivered will get stuck and in the process of the mom trying to help it out become injured. Nature then tells the mother to destroy the injured baby in order to protect the other kits from a predator being lured to the nest.  So that’s good, right?

I tried to think of a lesson behind this incident, some layer of meaning to help minimize the horror. I realized that this is probably similar to the repulsion that some might experience if they came upon a farmer skinning a chicken, dismembering a lamb carcass, or dispatching an unwanted bull calf. For some reason, we humans seem to want to totally separate ourselves from the death and destruction that is part of the animal kingdom. While you may not want to see yourself as an “animal” we are the top predator on the planet. (Which is really quite a lovely thing when you think about it- no T-Rex or other massive, long-fanged carnivore stalking us at night)

With no particular logic, we want to remain omnivores- eat our bucket of fried chicken or baby-back ribs and hold a backyard barbeque while also holding onto this inane ability to be repulsed by the realities of raising and harvesting animals. In some parts of Europe it is actually illegal for the farmer to remove the horns on their goats, a veterinarian must do it. Never mind that we remove horns to prevent future suffering of an entire horn being ripped off by fencing. There are other movements to disallow, or at least look upon with repulsion, practices that cause temporary pain but guide the animal population toward a better future, including a future on our table.

Don’t get me wrong. I ardently believe many animals suffer needlessly in the desire to provide inexpensive food for a population that, as a whole, doesn’t seem to really need much more cheap food. I believe that if we paid the cost of raising our meat, milk, and egg supply kindly, that both the prey and we, the top predators, would benefit. But no matter how you slice it (no pun intended) eating meat involves death and some suffering. Unless we do not intend to live in balance with this planet, we have to come to terms with the harshness of existence. Ha, I say live in balance with the planet as if that were really possible for our species. We seem to have a drive to live outside of any balance. Even being able to type on this computer and post to a blog site that is available for people all over the world is rather outside of nature, don’t you think?

So while I might have to conclude that our species is unable to be a completely accepting part of the much referenced “circle of life”, I will take the lesson of bunny infanticide as my own personal reminder that even here on the farm we are removed from nature and some of its harsher realities. I will also remind myself to be gentle with those souls even farther removed when sharing some of the farm/livestock activities that we consider commonplace.

You know, when I think about it, when I was watching the momma bunny-before I figured out just what was happening- I am pretty sure her already large brown eyes were opened wider than normal, perhaps beyond instinct she was experiencing her own bunny brand of dismay, horror, and mortification. Truly living in nature must be the harshest reality of all.

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