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How the wild rabbit was tamed

The wild rabbit is not indigenous to the Maltese islands but it has been here for so long that it is now considered part of the country’s fauna.

Wild rabbits are still relatively common in the Maltese countryside but they are rarely seen because they emerge to feed at dawn and dusk and are very timid as a result of centuries of hunting

The rabbit originated in the Iberian Peninsula.

From there it was taken to other countries and is now found throughout Europe.

It was probably introduced in Malta by the Romans or possibly by the Phoenicians.

Malta was one of the stops of the Phoenicians as they sailed across the Mediterranean, their Western colonies and their homeland and they could have released rabbits on the islands to ensure a supply of fresh meat during their journeys.

The rabbits survived in the Maltese countryside and eventually provided meat for the local population.

The Knights of St John issued several edicts to restrict or prohibit the local population from hunting rabbits.

In 1773 the restrictions even resulted in a revolt known as the Rising of the Priests.

It is not known when rabbits started to be domesticated in the islands.

Some farmers used to keep a doe enclosed with four stone walls, each between 80 and 100 cm high.

The doe was well fed and was too heavy or too lazy to jump out.

Males, on the other hand, would jump inside at night to mate.

This provided the farmers with a continuous supply of meat.

These rabbits were probably the progenitors of the local domestic rabbit known as “tax-xiber”.

Wild rabbits are usually a pale sandy brown or greyish with white underparts.

Different colour varieties can be found in the same area.

Wild rabbits are still relatively common in the countryside but they are rarely seen because they emerge to feed at dawn and dusk and are very timid as a result of centuries of hunting.

At the Għadira Nature Reserve, where hunting has been prohibited since 1980, many rabbits have become tame and active during the day and can be seen regularly by those visiting the reserve which is open to the public on weekends.

portelli.paul@gmail.com

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