The history of rabbits in Australia begins on the 13th of May 1787 with the “First Fleet”: 11 ships that left Portsmouth, England to establish a penal colony in Australia. Onboard these 11 ships, European rabbits were kept to provide meat for the long voyage, and provided a source of food and clothing once the settlers landed in Australia.
Within a few short decades of breeding on this new continent, rabbits had multiplied exponentially – and continue to do so today. In fact, the numbers of these colonizing rabbits have risen so drastically that they are now considered a significant pest across South Australia because of their fondness for eating a variety of crops.
Of course, this proliferation of rabbits in the Australian wilderness also encouraged many people to begin adopting them as pets. Though Australia may not have any indigenous rabbit breeds, the popularity of imported breeds continues to rise each year. In this article, we’ll be covering the most popular rabbit breeds that have been brought to Australia over the last few decades.
The 5 Australian Rabbit Breeds
These exceptionally intelligent rabbits hail from 19th-century England, where they were bred as an all-purpose meat, show, and pet rabbit. Owing to their long heritage and significant cross breeding, they are regarded as one of the hardiest and most adaptable breeds of rabbit. Owing to this resilient nature, they have fared well in Australia’s year-round heat.
With a signature mask and saddle look sometimes referred to as “Dutch markings”, they are certainly a unique and remarkable rabbit. Their docile temperaments and naturally friendly natures have made them a favorite house pet for first-time and experienced rabbit owners alike.
2. Holland Lop
With their characteristically droopy ears and compact, bulldog-like bodies, Holland Lops have won the hearts of many rabbit owners. Energetic little bunnies, they are known for being fun and mischievous when kept as house pets. Weighing under 4 pounds, they are an ideal pet for apartments or homes with space constraints.
The Holland Lop has become well-adapted to the Australian climate due in large part to its ears. Because they are quite large relative to its diminutive body, they can vent plenty of heat even during the searing Australian summer. Even with this in mind, it is advisable to keep them as indoor pets most of the year.
3. Mini Lop
Defying its “mini” name by being 2-3 pounds larger than the pint-sized Holland Lop, this German-born rabbit breed shares many of the characteristics listed for the breed above. Where it differs most prominently, though, is its energy level and temperament: Mini Lops are a very relaxed breed, often prizing affection and sleep over the Holland Lop’s high energy antics.
Like the Holland Lop, Mini Lops’ oversized ears help them to vent heat in the warm Australian climate. Though they are somewhat hardier than their petite friends, it is still advisable to keep them indoors for most of the year.
Another of the “happy accidents” of rabbit breeding, the Satin was first developed unintentionally in 1934. While trying to improve the quality of his Havana rabbits, Walter Huey noticed a handful of newborns that possessed a most unique type of fur: Short, but incredibly soft and shiny. As a multipurpose rabbit, it has been bred for fur, meat, show, and home pet owners.
Their thin, soft, almost translucent hairs also carry an adaptation that gives them a leg up on life in Australia: A Satin’s coat is rather lightweight in comparison most rabbits, making ventilation much easier in the summer heat.
At this point, the dense and springy fur of the Rex breed has brought it to international fame as a rabbit breed. It seems that no corner of the world where rabbits are kept as house pets or shown in competition is without a significant Rex population!
Renowned for their luxurious coats, Rexes were originally bred to be used for their meat and pelts. Once prospective rabbit owners began to observe their friendly and affectionate temperaments though, they quickly earned their place in many homes.
Final Thoughts on Australian Rabbit Breeds
Though wild rabbits may be looked on as destructive pests by Australian farmers, breeds meant for home and show continue to gain popularity due to their ease of care and pleasant temperaments.
For more information on the wide world of rabbit breeds, please see our ultimate guide to rabbit breeds.
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