Creating better tomorrows for all pet rabbits

CAMPAIGN UPDATE – Spring 2022

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

Animal Welfare Operation – Annual report, year ending December 2021

2021 has largely continued to be dominated by COVID-19 and the lockdowns and controls that came with it, that have impacted operations in all nations of the UK. Despite this, intelligence efforts and enquiries have continued, either remotely or in person (where legal provisions permitted), and these have paid off in a significant increase in detections and positive case disposals for the year ending December 2021.

Planned project work has started, with expanded monitoring of an array of platforms, and enhanced checks for other nations of the UK aside from England.

Complaints to HQ have continued to rise, and while there has been a decrease of queries and complaints about licensing for entertainment, concerns about breeders have continued to come in with disturbing regularity.

Headline figures:

New cases for 2021 = 480 versus 2020 = 355, an increase of 155.
Proactive cases in 2021 = 436 and reactive cases (complaints and enquiries) = 44, versus proactive cases in 2020 = 327 and reactive (complaint cases) = 27.

Cases in England 2021 = 284; 
Cases in Scotland = 8; 
Cases in Wales = 17; 
Cases in NI = 12; 
Rest of the world = 6; 
Unknown = 158.

Cases in 2021 concerned Animal Welfare, Animal Health, illegal hunting and poaching, fraud, drugs, theft, environmental protection and counterfeiting offences, amongst others.

A disturbing trend has been monitored since the start of the pandemic and this is a marked increase in ‘new’ breeders advertising since March 2020. These currently account for 91 breeders across the regions of the UK.

Licensed site checks in 2021 – 34 (this is the first year of active recording and is lower due to the lockdown issues throughout 2021).

2021 statistics

This represents an increase of 125 cases, an increase of over a third in 12 months.

Geographical spread:

Nation/LocationBreeder/Trader Figures
England284
Wales12
Scotland8
Northern Ireland12
Channel Islands1
Hungary1
Norway2
Turkey2
Unknown158

New trader phenomenon

As outlined previously, we have identified a disturbing trend of new breeders/traders appearing since the commencement of Lockdown ‘1’ in March 2020, and this has shown no sign of being an isolated issue, with noticeable upticks in breeder appearances throughout the subsequent peaks and troughs of the following Covid peaks and lockdowns, all the way up to the current situation.

New breeder statistics:
All of the UK = 91

These figures comprise:
England = 74
Wales = 9
Scotland = 3
NI = 5.

Types of offence identified in 2021:

Type of OffenceNumber of Cases
Animal welfare offences including licencing400
Animal health including Avian Flu regulations2
Fraud8
Excise fraud15
Channel Islands animal welfare law(s)1
Drugs5
Environmental protection1
Other Licencing5
Food safety1
Hunting Act offences27
Theft10
Pests Act 19541
Road Traffic Act10
Scrap metal offences5
Maritime law offences2
Product counterfeiting and allied offences6
Vehicle theft1
Some cases involved more than one type of offence so there are more offences than there are cases raised.

Case Outcomes in 2021:

153 cases were closed with no further action possible.
39 cases were flagged for intelligence development and monitoring.
62 cases were flagged for carrying over in to 2022, due to the protracted nature of the enquiries involved.

Other case disposals:

The distribution of other case enquiries and referrals was:
Crimestoppers /Police = 31
League Against Cruel Sports intelligence = 11
Other enforcement authorities = 3
HMRC = 39
RSPCA = 16
Local Authorities = 35
Sales platform compliance = 7
APHA = 4
Environment Agency = 1
DEFRA = 2

Total referrals made = 149.

Some cases involved more than one type of offence so there are more offences than there are cases raised.

Case Outcomes in 2021:

153 cases were closed with no further action possible.
39 cases were flagged for intelligence development and monitoring.
62 cases were flagged for carrying over in to 2022, due to the protracted nature of the enquiries involved.

• Other case disposals:

The distribution of other case enquiries and referrals was:

Crimestoppers /Police = 31
League Against Cruel Sports intelligence = 11
Other enforcement authorities = 3
HMRC = 39
RSPCA = 16
Local Authorities = 35
Sales platform compliance = 7
APHA = 4
Environment Agency = 1
DEFRA = 2

Total referrals made = 149.

Reactive vs Proactive Case Spread:

Of the cases identified and investigated in 2021, 436 were proactive and 44 were reactive following up complaints and intelligence passed to RWAF Head Office by members of the public.

This is a significant change to 2020, when 327 cases were
proactive and 28 cases were reactive.

Conclusions:

  1. This has been the third year in a row where we have seen an exponential increase in case numbers, some of this can be accounted for by more proactive hours devoted to animal welfare enquiries from the AW function of the charity, but similarly it can also be attributed to the phenomenon of steadily increasing breeder numbers, and wider reach through different sales platforms.
  2. New breeders have continued to appear consistently since Lockdown ‘1’ in March 2020, and this phenomenon has not abated in to 2022, with new breeder figures continuing to rise.
  3. There is an overlap between offences, with unlicensed breeder addresses often linked to other issues including excise fraud and theft.
  4. The figures we have compiled are based on one officer working the equivalent of one day per week, and there are, therefore, resulting restrictions in how much can be achieved. It is therefore impossible to quantify true breeder numbers across all of the sales platforms available to buyers across the UK.

Mark Dron – Animal Welfare Investigations and Operations

Successful ethics and welfare Webinar Vet lecture

On Wednesday 19th January 2022, Emma Milne, a Patron and supporter of the RWAF delivered a wonderful lecture to a whopping 1900 delegates, helping to spread the ethics and welfare messages of the RWAF. Delegates attended from around the world (in 53 countries to be exact!), and if you are yet to watch the webinar, it is available for 6 months, free of charge to both veterinary professionals and members of the public. Visit www.thewebinarvet.com for more information. A special thank you to Emma from us at the RWAF for her help and support and delivering this webinar.

In fact, this is not the first free webinar that we have undertaken with the Webinar Vet. The RWAF has paid for other webinars, and offered them free of charge to help educate both the veterinary profession, and also owners, on rabbit health and welfare topics. Our ‘Rabbit reproductive disease and how to neuter’ was delivered by veterinary surgeon, Sophie Jenkins, and has had an amazing 1330 views to date. There are others planned for future dates, so check out the Webinar Vet details.

In Summary

  • Rabbits are the 3rd most popular pet in the UK (~1,000,000)
  • Vets need to do more to recognise rabbits’ specific needs and help owners improve their welfare too.
  • Inappropriate diet is still a huge problem – major cause of dental disease and morbidity.
  • Too many are kept in isolation.
  • Too many do not have freedom of choice or room to adequately exercise, and in many cases can’t exercise at all.
  • Extreme conformation, predominantly brachycephaly and lop ears, are a major cause of morbidity and mortality.
  • Showing prey animals is problematic from a welfare POV.
  • Rabbits are not suitable pets for children and some would argue that we can never fully meet their needs in captivity.
  • We still have a lot to do!

Hutch petition update

We are thrilled that our petition to stop pet rabbits being cooped up in small hutches has now reached over 100,000 signatures! Thank you to each and every one of you that has signed and shared the petition. If you haven’t signed yet, please follow the link. Please also share the link far and wide so we can reach our next target of 150,000 signatures.

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