Are There Rabbits in New Zealand?

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Rabbits have a significant presence in New Zealand, with their introduction dating back to the 19th century. Initially brought for food and sport, these fast-breeding animals have since greatly proliferated in the region. Over time, several rabbit plagues have occurred in New Zealand, making them both a prominent and challenging aspect of the country’s ecosystem.

New Zealand rabbits come in various breeds and variations, each with distinct physical attributes. Recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), these rabbits can display a variety of colors such as white, black, red, blue, or a combination known as ‘broken.’ Generally weighing 10 to 12 pounds, they are characterized by their broad, muscular bodies, medium length, and well-rounded haunches.

Rabbit care and management is essential, particularly in New Zealand, as these animals are known to have a significant impact on the local environment. Proper breeding practices and understanding their uses, both commercially and for hobby purposes, ensure that rabbits in New Zealand are responsibly managed and play an important role in the ecosystem.

Key Takeaways

  • Rabbits were introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century and have since become a significant part of the ecosystem
  • New Zealand rabbits come in various breeds and colors, with unique physical attributes
  • Responsible rabbit care and management are crucial for maintaining a balanced ecosystem in New Zealand

Historical Background

Rabbits were introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century by European settlers for food and sport. The first introductions took place in the 1840s, which coincided with the arrival of Europeans in large numbers. These rabbits were the common European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), native to Spain and Portugal.

Initially, rabbits were found only in small numbers in southern New Zealand during the 1840s and 1850s. However, as colonization continued, settlers transported and liberated rabbits in several other parts of New Zealand. In a short span of time, rabbits began reproducing and spreading quickly, reaching plague proportions in some areas and becoming a pest.

The New Zealand rabbit, a distinct breed, was likely developed in California from a mix of breeds, possibly including Belgian hares and Flemish giants. Bred for their quick growth rate and meat type, the New Zealand rabbit was added to the US rabbit standard in 1916. While the New Zealand rabbit shares its name with the country, it is important to understand that the breed’s origin is separate from the history of rabbits introduced to New Zealand by the early settlers.

William S. Preshaw played a significant role in the introduction of rabbits to New Zealand. In 1864, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times advocating for the introduction of rabbits for their value as a food source. Consequently, several rabbit species were introduced into the country, resulting in both positive contributions towards food production and negative consequences for the environment.

In conclusion, rabbits have had a long and complex history in New Zealand, with their introduction dating back to the 19th century. The development of the New Zealand rabbit as a distinct breed occurred separately in California, and the presence of rabbits in the country today can be attributed to the efforts of early European settlers and proponents like William S. Preshaw.

Physical Attributes of New Zealand Rabbits

Color Variations

New Zealand rabbits come in a variety of colors, including white, red, black, blue, broken, and chestnut agouti. The white variety often has albinism, resulting from a lack of pigmentation in the fur, eyes, and skin.

Size and Body Type

These rabbits have a muscular and broad body of medium length, with a large and round head. Their size ranges from medium to large, with adult rabbits weighing between 10-12 lbs. Long and strong legs, particularly their hind legs, are another feature of New Zealand rabbits, giving them agility and power.

Fur and Shedding

New Zealand rabbits have normal-length fur that is known as “flyback,” which means that when brushed in the wrong direction, it immediately returns to the original position. Their coat is short and very soft, but it does not have the properties of wool. In terms of shedding, these rabbits follow a natural pattern of shedding their fur, which may increase during certain seasons.

Ears and Vision

The ears of New Zealand rabbits stand straight up, contributing to their distinct appearance. Their ears are long and erect, which aids in their ability to hear even the slightest sounds. Although some white New Zealand rabbits with albinism may have vision problems, such as sensitivity to bright light or partial blindness, most individuals do not experience significant issues related to their vision.

Breeds and Variations

The New Zealand rabbit breed is known for its various color variations and origins. Despite its name, it is not originally from New Zealand, but rather, it is an American breed that was developed in California in 1916. The breed is a mix of the Belgian Hare and Flemish Giant, which were bred and developed specifically for meat and fur production.

There are five distinct New Zealand rabbit breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA). The New Zealand Red was recognized in 1916, the White New Zealand rabbit in 1920, the Black New Zealand in 1958, the Broken New Zealand in 2010, and most recently, the Blue New Zealand, which was accepted in 2016.

The American Rabbit is another breed that shares some similarities with the New Zealand rabbit breed. Listed as one of the rarest breeds by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the American Rabbit is known for its unique and charming appearance.

One of the key differences between the American and New Zealand rabbits is their size and body shape. The New Zealand rabbits are larger and heavier than the American rabbits, making them well-suited for meat production. Additionally, the New Zealand rabbit breeds come in various colors, including red, white, black, broken, and blue, whereas the American rabbit is primarily available in two colors: blue and white.

In summary, the New Zealand rabbit breed is diverse in colors and variations, coming in five distinct breeds recognized by ARBA. Originating from a mix of the Belgian Hare and Flemish Giant, they were developed in the United States for meat and fur production.

Rabbit Care and Management

Dietary Needs

New Zealand rabbits, like other rabbits, require a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods like hay, pellets, and fresh vegetables. Their staple food is hay, as it provides essential nutrients and helps wear down their teeth which never stop growing. A diet rich in grass hay, such as timothy or lucerne hay, is important for their health. Pellets are also a part of their diet, but should be given in moderation. In addition, fresh vegetables like carrots can be included in their diet, along with occasional fruit treats like cherries or bananas.

Health Concerns

Rabbit owners need to be aware of potential health issues, such as malocclusion, ear mites, flystrike, overgrown teeth, and cancer. It is crucial to monitor their overall health and respond to any signs of illness promptly. A rabbit with a well-balanced diet and appropriate grooming will have a lower risk of developing health issues.


A suitable housing environment is essential for the well-being of New Zealand rabbits. The hutch should be at least 1830 x 610 x 610 mm in size, with an attached run of at least 2400 x 900 x 900 mm for one or two rabbits. Place the hutch away from rain, wind, and direct sunlight. Bedding made of hay is necessary, and the hutch should also have a heavy ceramic food bowl, a water bottle, and access to chew toys.


Grooming New Zealand rabbits regularly helps maintain their coats in a healthy condition and prevents matting or shedding problems. Use a soft brush to groom your rabbits, and pay additional attention during their shedding periods. This will not only benefit their appearance but also reduce the risk of ingesting excess fur during self-grooming, which in turn minimizes the risk of gastrointestinal issues.

Breeding Aspects


Rabbits in New Zealand are known for their fast breeding capabilities. A single female rabbit, or doe, can have around 45 babies in a year, and population numbers can increase eight- or tenfold in a given season. When it comes to breeding, a doe can become fertile and pregnant multiple times throughout the year, resulting in large litters of baby rabbits.

The weaning process for young rabbits takes place a few weeks after birth, when they are ready to start consuming solid foods and gradually becoming less dependent on their mother’s milk. However, it is essential to note that not all offspring will survive, and occurrences such as stillborn babies or health complications can happen.

Genetic Variations

New Zealand rabbits come in various coat colors such as white, black, red, blue, or ‘broken’ patterns. The white coat color is often the result of albinism, a genetic condition that causes a lack of pigmentation. Albinism in rabbits also affects their eye color, generally leading to red eyes due to the lack of pigment in the iris.

Another common genetic variation seen in wild rabbits is the chestnut agouti coat color. This pattern is characterized by a mix of black, brown, and grey hairs that create a unique brindle appearance. Many breeds are selectively bred for specific coat colors, and some breeders might even focus on producing rabbits with rare or unusual patterns.

In some cases, breeders who specialize in larger breeds, like the Flemish Giant, a breed that originates from Belgium, can be found in various locations in the United States, such as Ohio, Kentucky, California, and Florida. These breeders often focus on attributes such as size, temperament, and coat color variations.

Uses and Importance of New Zealand Rabbits


New Zealand Rabbits make great pets, especially for families with children. These rabbits are known for being friendly and affectionate, making them a popular choice for pet owners. Do Eagles Eat Rabbits? highlights the fact that rabbits face many predators in the wild, so keeping them as pets offers them a safer environment.

Show Rabbits

Another popular use for New Zealand Rabbits is in shows. These rabbits have well-rounded bodies and muscular faces, making them attractive candidates for rabbit shows. Their quick growth rate and large size also contribute to their popularity among breeders and exhibitors.

Meat Production

New Zealand Rabbits are particularly valued for their meat production. These rabbits grow quickly and have a large body size, which makes them suitable for meat production. In fact, they are among the most commonly bred rabbits for meat, supplying a rich source of protein Do Foxes Eat Rabbits?. The Do Wolves Eat Rabbits? article points out that wolves occasionally hunt rabbits as well, further emphasizing the importance of rabbits as a protein source for various animals, including humans.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common rabbit breeds in New Zealand?

In New Zealand, one of the most popular and recognizable rabbit breeds is the New Zealand rabbit. This breed is known for its docile and gentle temperament, making it a great choice for both meat production and as a companion animal. Other rabbit breeds that can be found in New Zealand include the Flemish Giant, Dutch, and Netherland Dwarf.

What is the role of rabbits in New Zealand?

Rabbits were introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century as a source of food and sport. Unfortunately, they soon became a significant pest, causing severe damage to the country’s farmland and costing millions in lost production and control measures. However, many rabbit enthusiasts still keep them as pets due to their friendly and gentle nature.

How did rabbits arrive in New Zealand?

Rabbits were introduced to New Zealand by European settlers in the 19th century. They were brought over for food and sport, but quickly multiplied and spread, leading to the problems faced by the country today.

What are the characteristics of New Zealand White rabbits?

New Zealand White rabbits are a popular breed known for their large size, gentle temperament, and beautiful white coat. They have an outgoing and friendly personality, making them excellent pets for rabbit enthusiasts. The breed is most commonly used for meat production, but it is also a well-known show rabbit.

Where can rabbits be found in New Zealand?

Rabbits can be found in various habitats across New Zealand, including grasslands, forests, and even urban areas. They are known to cause significant damage to the country’s farmland, as they consume crops and cause soil erosion. Efforts are continuously made to control their population, but they remain prevalent in the country.

What is the typical size of a New Zealand rabbit?

New Zealand rabbits are relatively large, with an average weight of 9-12 pounds (4-5 kilograms). Their size makes them ideal for meat production, as well as contributing to their popularity as show rabbits. Despite their size, they are docile and gentle pets, making them an excellent choice for rabbit enthusiasts.

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