Yesterday was a “watershed” day. Today confirmed it.
Long time participants here will remember the story of the passing of “Pirate Jack”. My bunny.
Well, a couple of generations on, and “Little Jack”, his grandson, is a 2nd generation “free range bunny”. Not only was he “born wild”, but so were his parents.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve slowly “earned his trust”. First with not running away to hide. Then the acceptance of food added to the dish while he was “in grabbing distance”. Eventually even to him coming over to “sniff me” and see what was this giant thing that wasn’t so bad?
Over the last 6 months, we’ve progressed from taking the occasional leaf offering, at a distance, and after I’ve moved back; to taking it from my hand; to coming out to see me and looking, in a suggestive sort of way, at the particular type of leave that might be most of interest…
Free Range Bunnies are prone to fleas. They get them from the squirrels that visit the garden. I’d complain, but the squirrels are mostly entertaining. (Other than the fact that I can’t grow any corn to seed as long as they are arround to raid it just before it’s ready…)
So “Little Jack” (also a black and white, and small and agile. Though with good teeth…) manged to pick up some fleas. Bunnies seem to know that Mums have pyrethrins and cure fleas. Sadly, my mums have not grown fast enough to provide a full cure. Only occasional relief. (I’ve added 3 more and I’m working on some “edible chrysanthemums” from Kitazawa seedsman).
Bunnies are pretty good about keeping fleas down by grooming. Including a “mutual grooming” behaviour where two bunnies sit head to tail and lick the spot down the back where it’s impossible for a bunny to reach on his own. This is fine when you have a bunch of bunnies, but at this time I only have 2. At that number, it’s common for someone to not get as much grooming as needed. So a patch of “tangle and red” can form between the shoulder blades if there is not enough grooming to keep the fleas from having a lunch counter… Little Jack had started to get such a patch. I’d plucked as many leaves from the Mums as I could, without setting them back too much, and the “red” went away. But it was still tangled and dirty. And most likely some eggs of fleas still survived the pyrethrins.
Well, yesterday, I “took the plunge”.
While Little Jack was munching on a large fresh cabbage leaf, I took my comb from my pocket and gently combed his back. At first, I took a single finger and scratched just a bit between the shoulders. He “froze” for a second, then accepted that this was “a good thing”. As I applied the comb he “froze” again. This time it took a couple of strokes to decide “Hey, I LIKE this”…
Today was a repeat with the comb, but without the hesitation.
I have been accepted as a Giant Bunny with strange ears and funny teeth as far as grooming is concerned.
His spouse, Ginger Too, has not yet let me touch her. Then again, Little Jack gives her a very complete grooming so she has not manifested a flea “issue”. We are up to the “leaf from the hand” and approaching “That leaf, there, please”. I figure in a month or two I’ll be able to comb her too.
I don’t know how to properly say what this means to me. To be accepted as “friend” and “A Good Guy” by a semi-wild bunny is a very big deal. Bunnies are very perceptive, very skeptical, highly social, and generally picky about who they call “friend”. Especially the giant things that smell funny and don’t have proper ears…
It means more to me than acceptance by any person.
There is no higher honor than to move from “Servant to Bunnies” to “My Friend (with strange ears and predator eyes on the front of his funny face, but he’s OK…)”.
The Ugly – Sidebar On ‘Possums
I had lost 3 bunnies to some unknown predator. Despite a lot of attempts to figure out what it was, I’d find a bunny just “gone” and the others very spooked. (That I’ve managed to friend a bunny in that context is especially gratifying). Far too late, I set out a “live trap” with cat food in it. (I’d figured a cat…)
What I caught was a Very Large ‘Possum. I hauled it away to a “good home” elsewhere. Over the course of the next few days, the bunnies calmed down. I’d left the yard light on all night for a week or so before catching Mr. ‘Possum, and that was a bit of a help. But after the removal of Sir Teeth, everyone is much more calm. I’m pretty sure he was the culprit. A web search showed that ‘Possums are known to be predators of ground birds. I suspect that the rule of the Aquarium applies. Big things eat little things.
At any rate, I’d noticed a bit of a “suspicious” look when I set out the live trap and spread cat food around. Little Jack was wondering why I liked cat food… Then, on the day of the “catch”, the bunnies stayed a bit hidden. They knew Mr. ‘Possum was in the cage, but didn’t know if he could get out. Later that day, I collected the trap and carried him off.
The next day, I reset it. Under the watchful eye of Little Jack.
I think that was the watershed moment.
He saw me set the trap. Saw the Evil Monster in it, and unable to escape. Saw me “cart away the Evil Monster”. Saw the Magic Protector Cage That Smells Of Catfood return. And looked at me with that “well, maybe I need to think about you a bit differently” look…
At any rate, it was shortly after that when both bunnies calmed down, and both decided they no longer needed to run away at any noise, even my approach. Now, a couple of weeks later, “life is good”.
I suspect that domestication of animals started this way. Some guy who made a friend. Some mutual benefit recognized. A wolf that found warmth and the odd scrap of bones by a fire. A sheep that found a pasture where the Other Wolves were kept out, and this one strange wolf was not interested in attack when the Tall Strange Guy was around. A bird that found nesting over the Tall Strange Guy gave fewer predators and more young raised to maturity.
At least, that’s my fantasy when I sit in my easy chair on the patio.
Doves nesting 1.5 Meters over my head.
Bunnies looking at a bean leaf, then at me. Well? In their eyes…
A cat looking at the bunnies, then at me, then wandering off to the food dish. (I’ve had a bunny go ‘nose to nose’ with the cat. Very Interesting dynamic…)
And even a humming bird hanging 1 foot in front of my face, looking at me, then at the sage in flower.
Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s how “domestication” began. Some guy just being friends with the critters who were not going to eat him. What I’m less sure about is who domesticated whom…
“Servant To Bunnies”
“Gardener To Hummers”
“Groomer of Cats”
“Guardian of the Dove Nest”
Such are the roots of civilization…