Friday, August 8, 2014

The Mordor Bunnies of Alaska

On my first trip to Alaska 8 or 9 years ago my son and I had a long day of flying and then driving.  We pulled in late.  Late enough that even in June there was a twilight dimming of the endless sunshine. I was a little loopy and disoriented so when I saw by the side of the road a large black rabbit I figured I just needed a good night's sleep.

But over the course of our trip we saw these sinister looking bunny rabbits a few more times.  I started to worry a bit.  I have you see read Watership Down and remembered that The Black Rabbit of Inle' was the hippity hop equivalent of The Grim Reaper.

When I mentioned these sightings to other travelers they did not recall seeing such creatures.  My logical assumption of course was that these were simply summer coloration variants of Snowshoe Hares.  But they are usually more of a grey-brown.  Do rabbits and hares have color variation the way black/brown/cinnamon bears do?

That was on the Kenai Penninsula.  On a subsequent trip there and on a later trip to the Copper River region I saw neither hide nor Hare of such critters.

Then this August we pulled into Valdez Alaska, what passes for a metropolis up in these parts, and started seeing all kinds of odd rabbits.  The first we encountered hopping around in the wild was a plain old white rabbit with pink eyes.  Although this did have a sort of Alice in Wonderland effect on me it did not give me the disquieting feeling that the Black Rabbits had.  And then we started seeing more....


And even a few jet black ones....


In addition to the odd color variations there was another strange thing going on. These rabbits did not seem particularly "wild". They were sitting around in people's yards munching on what passes for grass like stuff.  When a couple of the younger, more high spirited members of our party tried to catch one it did not do the flat out sprint you would expect from a wild animal.  It sort of hopped and juked, always switching directions at the right moment but never really attempting to flee the area.  They almost seemed like domestic rabbits.

And they probably are.  My wife frequently talks to strangers and often learns interesting things from them.  She was advised that these actually were domestic rabbits that had been released into the wild. It was assumed that they would not last long there.

My theory is that the black rabbits I saw in both places - and they were separated by 265 road miles or an implausible assortment of mountains, glaciers and bays - were released domestic bunnies of the type called logically enough The Alaskan Rabbit.*  These actually were bred in Germany and were an attempt to replicate the color of the Alaskan Fox.  Intended therefor as a source of fur they never entirely caught on as domestic pets but they are still somewhat popular in Great Britain.  I could easily see folks in Alaska liking them just for their name.

And when you consider how many people come up to Alaska for just the summer or just until whatever wanderlust drove them there wears off, well, it makes sense.

As you pack for the long drive back to "The Lower 48" you have to make executive decisions.  What will come with you.  What is too much bother.  You look over at the bunny hutch and think: bother.

So Miss Muffin Flopears is taken out of her cage, pointed towards Freedom and told:

"Hop away!  Be Free!  Be Happy!  LOOK OUT!!!!!!"

But evidently enough of them avoid the eagles, foxes, bears, wolves etc to maintain little colonies of Mordor Bunnies near the protective shelter of human habitations.

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* or perhaps Havana rabbits but they have white around their eyes and besides, that is not as good a story.

2 comments:

Claire said...

Hah, I see your black rabbits and raise you the rise (and fall) of our local wallaby population

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/nature_studies/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-peak-district-wallabies-8503546.html

Tacitus2 said...

Wallabies do trump bunnies. There is cute and CUTE. Hey, isn't there still a herd of little 'roos up in Scotland somewhere?

T