The use of a live rabbit on the ‘Scared of the Dark’ tv programme was inappropriate as it is detrimental to the rabbit’s welfare. Rabbits are a social species, and being individually housed, as this rabbit was, is aversive. Rabbits spend the majority of their time with a companion when possible (e.g. Huls et al. 1991 in Seaman et al. 2007) and when asked to work for access to different resources, worked similarly hard for access to food and a social companion (Seaman et al. 2007) – demonstrating the importance of a companion. Rabbits are also neophobic (fearful of new things) and will change their behaviour to avoid them when possible (Sunnucks 1998), meaning being housed in a novel, barren box would illicit stress and fear. Rabbits can also show stress responses to handling (Sellers et al. 2017), and it is recommended that pet rabbits are habituated and trained to any handling to improve welfare (Bradbury and Dickens 2016). As the participants touching the rabbit was unfamiliar to them and did not follow best rabbit handling practices, this would be distressing for the rabbit.
Therefore, with the rabbit in this show in a dark room, in a novel environment without companionship and with unknown people touching them, this rabbit has been subject to unnecessary stress and fear, and this is a welfare concern. Implications for the animals used in entertainment need to be better considered before they proceed.
Dr Laura Dixon
Programme Director- MSc International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law
Research Fellow in Animal Behaviour and Welfare
SRUC AEC Vice Chair