Campaign Update Autumn 2020

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Space

Why space is important

We have had a lot of enquiries recently about our minimum space recommendations for rabbits, so we thought it would be helpful to clear up any confusion.

• Our minimum recommendations

Our recommended living area for two average sized rabbits (and they should be kept at least in pairs), is a footprint of 3m x 2m. By ‘footprint’ we mean the accessible area of the ground, or floor if they’re indoor bunnies. The upper floor of a two-storey hutch does NOT count towards the footprint. Similarly, whilst raised platforms are great for enrichment, they do not count towards the footprint.

• The sheltered area

The space should include a sheltered area of 2m x 1m, and this is where some confusion can arise. Our minimum size recommendation for a hutch is 2m x 1m. This should be part of a wider space as described above. RABBITS SHOULD NEVER BE LOCKED IN HUTCHES.

• Get the height right

We also recommend a minimum height of 1m. This is to allow rabbits to display their happy behaviours of jumping and binkying!

• Access all areas all of the time

This MINIMUM space, a footprint of 3m x 2m and a height of 1m, must be available at all times, not just for limited periods.

• Indoors or outdoors

These recommendations apply both to indoor and outdoor accommodation.

• Research based evidence

Our recommendations are based on research by the RSPCA and Bristol University.

• How much room does one rabbit need?

Rabbits suffer if kept alone and should always be kept in at least friendly pairs. But even if a rabbit was to live alone, it would still need the same minimum amount of space as two rabbits.So, the argument of “I don’t have room for two, so I’ll just have one”, simply does not hold water.

• Free range

If your rabbits are free range then great, they would have space in addition to our minimum recommendations. Remember that free ranging should be supervised.

• Endorsements

We do not at present recommend or endorse any hutches or boarding establishments, so if you see this claim, please let us know.

• Be creative

Take a look at the Housing section of our website for some ideas, and you can convert a garden shed or use a combination of different enclosures.

We are fans of the Runaround system, because it offers so much enrichment for rabbits and because it can be set up in a variety of ways, and maximise the available space. The Runaround setup can meet the total footprint in many different combinations, not all of them immediately obvious.

Remember – these are MINIMUM recommendations

It goes without saying that bigger is better in terms of space for rabbits, but we’re saying it anyway!

Website Revamp

MJ enjoying his food! Credit R Vora

If you’ve visited our website, www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk, since Easter, you will have noticed that it looks very different. We are delighted with the new funky style, which not only looks better, but includes technical improvements that make it easier to maintain, and allow it to work more effectively on the variety of gadgets that we all use to access the web nowadays.

We would like to say an enormous thank you to Reena and Nitesh from Voras Designs (voras.co.uk), who volunteered their time and considerable expertise to build the site for us.

We know they won’t want us to make a fuss, but we wanted to thank them publicly, which also allows us to take advantage of the opportunity to print this wonderful picture of MJ, one of their gorgeous rabbits.

Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Vora, you’re amazing!

We have also added some new content, such as pages on digging, foraging, hiding and rearing, and information about keeping rabbits with other pets – rabbits with chickens keep cropping up

Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund – Animal Welfare Officer Update, January to June 2020

The RWAF’s current Animal Welfare Officer took up the role in late May 2017, and has been in post for three years.

The primary role of the Animal Welfare Officer is to investigate the online trade in pet rabbits by breeders who use sales platforms to maintain their trade. The role has expanded somewhat in that time, and, in the last year, now also encompasses other areas of welfare concern such as the use of rabbits in entertainment (a licensed activity), the breeding of rabbits for food, and diverse non-welfare areas such as agricultural standards, animal health and where identified in the course of Animal Welfare enquiries other criminal offences, including fraud, counterfeiting, flytipping and drugs.

2020 has been a record-breaking year for the Animal Welfare Officer role; it started with more investigations than any other year so far since 2017, and has continued in that vein, despite the restrictions that came with
COVID-19 and the resulting UK Lockdown.

The RWAF AWO says, “As we move in to July 2020, I have worked on 143 investigations, the lion’s share of which have related to rabbit breeders and allied matters (101 enquiries to date), and the remainder relating to
Hunting Act offences (mainly Hare Coursing), allied firearms matters, drugs, fly-tipping and fraud.

“Despite COVID-19’s impact upon legitimate businesses, it appears that “Black Market” activities have flourished in the last 3 months of lockdown, and I have even identified new breeders seeking rabbits to kick start their
breeding businesses.

“So far this year, I have referred suspected unlicensed pet traders to numerous councils, referred welfare matters to the RSPCA and other criminality to various Police Forces; I have also referred a number of matters to HMRC where there is a suggestion of tax offences occurring, which in the last 6 months has also included offences relating to red diesel, identified when I have been out making enquiries.

“Where endangered species issues have been identified, these have also been referred to the Police via Crimestoppers – the illicit trade in endangered wildlife and fauna is one of the major priorities for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and the funding that supports this trade was recently the subject of a major report by the Financial Action Task Force.

“The matters that RWAF investigates, particularly around uncontrolled online breeders, is a part of the web of wildlife crime in the United Kingdom, and its impact is felt in a wide array of ways, ranging from animal welfare to animal health and even money laundering and tax evasion.

“To illustrate how massive the scale of operations is in 2020, I will compare the same points since taking up my post:

2017 – First six months in post – 35 investigations

2018 – January to June – 40 investigations

2019 – January to June – 50 investigations had been raised by this point.

“It is clear from these figures that, far from suppressing the online trade in pets, COVID-19 has caused an apparent proliferation of breeders and their advertising. Only this morning I received notification that 53 new
advertisements for Rex Rabbits had gone onto a popular animal trading site in the last 24 hours.

“My enquiries have shown that the issue is a national one, with traders and breeders cropping up in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Analysis of the figures from HINDESIGHT and my own research, has shown that the greatest concentration of breeders appears to be in England, and in particular in the South and South-East, although bubbles of activity do appear around many major conurbations.

“As I type, I have 10 completed investigations that are ready to pass to the relevant Local Authorities, with five of those also being suitable for referral to HM Revenue and Customs. A further 25 cases are in development. If the year continues as it has started, then I can foresee at least 200 cases mounted by the RWAF before 2020 is over” – Mark Dron.