|Lifespan:||Around 1 year in the wild; up to 5 years in the home|
|Temperament:||Alert, suspicious, territorial|
|Best Suited For:||Outdoor pets, or to leave in the wild|
|Colors:||Light brown, dark brown, chestnut, agouti|
Off the coast of Washington State lies the island of San Juan. Today, it is a popular vacation spot that is home to a marina and scores of high-dollar bed and breakfasts… But as recently as the 1880s, it was still a wild paradise.
The San Juan rabbit breed takes its name from this, its island home. Like the cottontail rabbit, it is a descendant of wild rabbits from their homeland in Western Europe – and has remained almost solely as a wild rabbit.
While some adventurous rabbit caretakers have decided to keep these pint-sized bunnies as pets, you’re more likely to find them running through the lush grasses of their island home than in a cage. In today’s article we’ll be covering the history and origins of this unlikely breed, as well as identifying traits and how they interact with people. Read on to find out more!
History and Origin of the San Juan Rabbit Breed
Descended from the wild European rabbit, San Juan rabbits were introduced to their island home by settlers in the early 1880s. With few natural predators and abundant resources, they became a well-established local breed by 1895. Especially in the American settlements, they were a common source of food and pelts that could be seen running wild all around.
It’s commonly believed that the wild European rabbits were bred with other widely available breeds of the day. Including the gene pools of Belgian Hares, Flemish Giants, and New Zealand rabbits, they quickly became a hardy and adaptable breed with keen instincts.
Their quick-witted natures led them to being used to train hunting dogs, with this practice persisting in Louisiana to this day. Their small size and wily intelligence have even won them the favor of some domestic breeders, who often choose to keep them as pets in an outdoor hutch.
Often weighing only between 3 and 5 pounds, the San Juan rabbit is a generally diminutive breed. Their relatively large, alert ears and keen eyesight have developed across generations to provide them with a great ability to detect and avoid predators.
Outgoing and territorial, the San Juan will gladly bully milder breeds of domestic rabbit to assert its dominance. Their constantly alert, suspicious natures can make it difficult to keep them as pets, as they often see humans as just another threat.
Life in the Wild
While they are nowhere near as abundant on the islands as they may have been 100 years ago, San Juan rabbits still enjoy a free run of the many hilly and grassy areas of their Washington island home. Intensely suspicious, they’re always on alert to the presence of predators.
For most of the year, San Juan rabbits will live within a mile of their burrow – happily munching on grasses, weeds, and the occasional berry. Come wintertime, they’ll often increase their diet to include the bark of trees, and minimize their activity to save energy.
Because of their position as prey animals, San Juan rabbits have adapted to be alert, cautious, and territorial. Highly energetic and intelligent, they are always on the lookout for potential dangers – including big, friendly humans. For breeders who have chosen to domesticate this rabbit, it’s often recommended to build them a safely protected outdoor hutch.
Final Thoughts on the San Juan Rabbit Breed
These highly specialized rabbits have a fascinating combination of genetic influences, all owing to their origins on an island home. Cunning and quick-witted, they may be better suited to remaining in the wild. If you’re considering one as a pet, be sure to prepare yourself for a long acclimation process – it is likely to take them quite a while to warm up to you as a source of comfort rather than a predator.
Thank you for reading today! For more information on the San Juan rabbit (as well as many others), see Bob D. Whitman’s Domestic Rabbits and Their Histories. It’s an excellent source of rabbit history and information, and a constant source of inspiration to us here.