City dwellers have been get­ting some un­ex­pected new neigh­bors— and the sur­pris­ing in­flux is tak­ing place right be­neath their feet…

One of the big­gest in­va­sions of the past few decades is tak­ing place in some Euro­pean cities— yet most of the res­i­dents don’t even re­al­ize it’s hap­pen­ing. id digs up the dirt on the new rulers of the ur­ban un­der­ground: wild rab­bits.

iD magazine - - Contents -

The lo­ca­tion could be bet­ter. And at first glance the size is noth­ing to write home about. The new build­ing site of­fers just 625 square feet of space situated right in the mid­dle of two four-lane roads and in the shadow of three large apart­ment tow­ers. Yet the new res­i­dents feel happy and con­tented here. Be­cause for this colony of 20 wild rab­bits, the traf­fic is­land in down­town Ham­burg, Ger­many, of­fers ideal liv­ing con­di­tions. Like the mil­lions of other Euro­pean wild rab­bits, these also pre­fer the hus­tle and bus­tle of the big city to the peace and quiet of the coun­try­side. But why? What is at­tract­ing more and more bun­nies to big cities?


Tens of thou­sands? Hun­dreds of thou­sands? No­body knows ex­actly how many wild rab­bits have re­lo­cated from the coun­try to the city in re­cent years. How­ever, the fact is: In the parks, canals, ceme­ter­ies, and traf­fic is­lands of some of Europe’s largest me­trop­o­lises, the num­ber of wild rab­bits is sky­rock­et­ing. The tun­nels and liv­ing quar­ters of their un­der­ground struc­tures, which can be up to 15 feet deep, ex­tend across hun­dreds of feet through the sub­sur­face of the cities. (See the graphic on the next page.) “The an­i­mals have learned that there are good liv­ing con­di­tions in the ur­ban ar­eas,” ex­plains wildlife ex­pert An­dreas Kinser. The ad­van­tages for the in­trepid lit­tle lago­morphs: Whereas the ru­ral re­gions of­fer only mo­not­o­nous mono­cul­tures, in the cities the rab­bits can find a di­verse ar­ray of food items, in­clud­ing all man­ner of garbage. In ad­di­tion, the tall con­crete blocks and util­ity poles of­fer suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion from preda­tors such as birds of prey, and the ground is much looser than it is in the coun­try, mak­ing it per­fect for dig­ging out subter­ranean hous­ing sys­tems. And bi­ol­o­gists at Ger­many’s Goethe Univer­sity Frank­furt have made a fas­ci­nat­ing ob­ser­va­tion: They dis­cov­ered that wild rab­bits, like hu­mans, tend to live in small groups or even in in­di­vid­ual dwelling units in the cities while coun­ter­parts re­sid­ing in ru­ral ar­eas will form large fam­i­lies that can com­prise more than 50 mem­bers.

It is un­clear how many wild rab­bits have yet to con­quer the big cities and how they’ll spread out through the land­scape. But these an­i­mals, which orig­i­nated in south­ern Europe and moved north­ward at least 200 years ago, are masters of in­va­sion—some­thing they’ve al­ready proved in Aus­tralia: A dozen wild rab­bits were re­leased there 150 years ago; to­day 300 mil­lion live on the con­ti­nent, out­num­ber­ing hu­mans 13 to 1…

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