September 1, 2005
Rabbits Added to Conservation Mission
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Expands Mission to Include
It is not every day that a national, non-profit organization changes its mission, especially when it is the only one of its kind, and has over three decades of outstanding performance as a leader in the conservation of biodiversity. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), an organization dedicated to the conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry, has expanded its mission to include an entire species: rabbits.
The addition of rabbits is unique not only as an expansion in the number of species ALBC monitors and promotes, but also for the conservation challenges and opportunities that only rabbits can present. Rabbits are a form of livestock that are clean, quiet, and small enough to be easily handled. Rabbits have a well-documented history in American agriculture. Yet they offer urban dwellers the opportunity to effectively participate in an important conservation activity. Today many rabbit breeds are threatened with extinction and in great need of support if they are to continue to exist. The loss of these breeds would only further erode the rich agricultural heritage that is our legacy to future generations.
Why Were Rabbits Considered?
From time to time there has been discussion about adding rabbit breed conservation to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy mission. In 1989, at the request of rabbit advocates among our membership, ALBC investigated the ways in which we might work with rabbit conservation. There was concern that some rabbit breeds were endangered. The American, Silver Fox, and some other breeds have declined in number or have been deleted from the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) listing.
Individuals continue to request information about rabbits from ALBC, while others have suggested that some rabbit breeds are in need of conservation. In 2002 ALBC received a well-articulated petition from Bob Whitman of Beaumont, Texas, to include threatened rabbit breeds on the ALBC Conservation Priority List. This was followed by a flurry of letters supporting that petition. Many only requested that ALBC include rabbits (or a specific breed promoted by the writer) in our work, while some provided solid positions for inclusion.
~ Thousands of families and boys and girls have learned the very basics of animal agriculture from rabbits. Significance is not only measured in tons of meat for market, but also in the value of American families to the success of American agriculture-. Murph Westing, Silverton, OR
~ For me, agriculture is all about putting food on the table and I cannot imagine a table without rabbit!- Sarah Vance, Sewanee, TN
~ Rabbits were used as livestock long before they became pets.- Carol A. Sharpe, Fayetteville, TN
~ Certainly rabbits must be considered livestock, at least according to the many authors who have written about homesteading. Many of the breeds are multi-purpose and well suited to small-scale agriculture.- John F. Bowe, Jr., Florence, MA
Glen C. Carr, American Rabbit Breeders Association Executive Director wrote, The ARBA Board of Directors resolved to endorse and promote the preservation of rare breeds of domestic rabbits and to contact ALBC to request their inclusion in the ALBC mission the promotion, support, and definition of rare breeds of domestic rabbits both in the United States and globally. Our association would be available to assist with the determination of rare breeds of rabbits recognized in our ARBA. We presently recognize forty-five breeds, of which approximately ten breeds are considered rare with low populations. ARBA would greatly appreciate the support of ALBC with this common objective.
Bob Whitman followed his petition with extensive documentation that enabled ALBC to determine if rare breeds of rabbits should be added to the Conservation Priority List. He provided more than a decade of registration data for the various rabbit breeds; brief descriptions, development, history and distribution of the breeds; identified which breeds were developed in the United States, and which breeds are only to be found in the United States.
Rabbits and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
Most European conservation groups include the rabbit breeds of their own country in their conservation mission, as does the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand. It is hard to argue against the historical agricultural importance of rabbits, despite the small size of what would be considered the rabbit industry, compared to the rabbit fancy. As with other livestock industries, only a small part of the genetic pool is used in production. Commercial rabbitries use California, New Zealand, and Flemish breeds and hybrid production crosses. There is no doubt that genetic diversity embodied in the array of historic rabbit breeds deserves conservation attention.
ALBC has corresponded with USDA, ARBA, Commercial Rabbit Federation, animal scientists working with rabbit genetics, and others to determine how to measure breed and genetic status.
Actions for Conservation
After much exploration into the question of adding rabbit breeds to the ALBC conservation mission the ALBC Board of Directors has given its approval. Starting with the 2006 Conservation Priority List, specific rabbit breeds will appear and will be ranked according to the results of ALBC's preliminary studies. The ten specific breeds that have been identified as qualifying for inclusion are: American*, American Chinchilla*, Silver Fox*, Belgian Hare, Blanc De Hotot, Silver, Beveren, Giant Chinchilla*, Lilac, and Rhinelander. (* indicates breeds of American origin.)
ALBC currently has available Breed Abstract sheets on each of these breeds. This information is now available on the ALBC website as well. (Visit: http://www.albc-usa.org/wtchlist.htm.) A general sheet with information about rabbits is also available upon request.
At this time ALBC encourages comments regarding the inclusion of rabbits, choice of rabbit breeds to be included in the ALBC mission, and information about specific rabbit breeds. (Date of importation and world population of breed have been considered when making decisions, so be sure to include all information available.) Now is also the time for ALBC members breeding any of the ten breeds planned for inclusion to identify themselves so that these breeds may be represented in the next annual ALBC Breeders Directory. Non-ALBC rabbit breeders are encouraged to join and benefit from the added exposure these breeds will receive. Rabbits will make their first appearance on the Conservation Priority List in 2006.