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The Unexpected Tragedy
By Teeny Teh

*some pictures may be rather graphic and may not be suitable for children and immature audiences.

About 2 weeks ago, Lin, a volunteer with HRSS, notified HRSS of a religious school at Winstedt Road, which kept about 16 rabbits in their backyard. Over the phone, she mentioned that the rabbit enclosure the school had, was fairly big and had ample space for the rabbit residents to run around. However, she felt that the living conditions could be improved upon. We thus decided that it would be a good idea for us to visit the place. Both to see if the school was receptive to us giving them a few ideas as to how it was possible to make the place more comfortable for the rabbits, as well as to introduce the need for sterilization if the rabbits there were not already neutered and spayed.

Saturday, 21st August 2004 11:40am - Armed with fresh vegetables and eagerness to see the 16 rabbits, Lin, Sanz and myself arrived at the gates of Madrasah Al-Irsyad Al-Islamiah. Not wanting to trespass, we made our way along the outside perimeters of the school towards the rabbit enclosure. Expecting to see 16 rabbits running and lazing around, we were surprised to see only 3.

After seeking permission from the school office, introducing ourselves and explaining our reason for coming to the school, we were led to the enclosure by Nadiya, a teacher-in- charge and Izzad, another teacher. The open-air enclosure with walls made of wood frames and wire mesh, measured about 4 meters by 6 meters and had a shelter at the corner built from wood and plastic. This shelter had an underground “basement” where, according to the Nadiya, the rabbits love to dig and hide.

The ground was muddy and damp - probably due to the yesterday’s downpour. We hurriedly cleaned the soiled feeding bowls and dishes and filled them with clean water, rabbit food and fresh vegetables.

2 of the female rabbits (1 white and 1 brown) tucked appreciatively into the food, however 1 white male rabbit, which was later identified by Nadiya as the oldest “Grandpa” of the group, seemed traumatized and distraught for some reason and refused to even come out of the “basement”. And despite Sanz trying to feed him, he was unwilling to eat a single bite. This greatly surprised the teachers as they mentioned that all the rabbits usually greet feeding time with great excitement and fervor. This made us start to worry.

Both Nadiya and Izzad too, were shocked at the drastic reduction in number rabbits, as they mentioned that just yesterday afternoon all 16 rabbits were still running around happily in the enclosure. This made the whole situation even more puzzling. What could have happened overnight? Causing the dramatic reduction in the number of rabbits and for “Grandpa” to be so affected? And where were the other 13? Thus, all of us started looking around the school compound and the surrounding area, hoping to find the 13 missing rabbits.

Hope started to falter, as 1 white rabbit was found dead in the garden just 20 meters away from the enclosure. Stiff and damp, he seemed to have been attacked as his hind legs were chewed away. Even though there were flies hovering about his carcass, his body had yet to decompose, leading us to deduce that he most probably passed on last night. We watched with heavy hearts as Izzad buried
his body.

Filled with apprehension and fear, we continued the search for the other missing 12. However, after a thorough search, we failed to find anymore.

Upon assembling at the enclosure again, we realized that the rabbits had dug a burrow in their little basement. Nadiya explained that these rabbits had a few litters previously and she had seen baby rabbits slowly emerge from this burrow.

Upon further inspection into their burrow, we sighted white fur, thinking that it could be fur from a seasoned mother rabbit’s nest thus, we used the camera to get a better view. However, the photo revealed not a litter of babies, but a distinct white adult rabbit’s hind leg and the behind of a brown adult rabbit. We look at each other in disbelief and worry. Were the rabbits in there still alive? We tried to dangle food at the entrance of the burrow but there was no response. We figured then that perhaps then that they could be afraid and were hiding inside (We wanted so badly to believe that they were alive). Izzad then bravely put his entire arm all the way into the burrow to “feel” for the rabbits. He said he felt an ear and tugged at it gently but there was no response from the rabbit. We then feared the worst – they were most probably dead.

After much deliberation, we decided to pull the rabbits out. First was a light brown rabbit, which had a broken front paw. He was cold and stiff and his eyes were still open. The second one was a greyish brown rabbit. He too had his eyes open. We were all taken aback by the haunting scene – This was not what we were expecting at all.

Izzad tried to feel around for more but the burrow extended too far in for him to reach. Thus, we used the camera to see if there were anymore and there it was - the distinct coat of another rabbit. Izzad then used a stick to gently nudge the rabbit, hoping for some response, but all of us knew in our hearts that this one did not stand a chance too. After more feeling around the burrow, we concluded that any other rabbits that were inside were already dead.

Thus, after the carcasses of the 2 rabbits were buried, with the help of the teachers, Nadiya, Izzad and Muneer, the entrance to the burrow was sealed up with soil, giving the rest of the rabbit carcasses inside a burial as well. 2 of the survivors even came to say their last goodbyes before the entrance was sealed up. At that point, we finally understood why “Grandpa” was reacting the way he did - He witnessed his family die right before his eyes.

Was it a cat that jumped into the enclosure causing the rabbits to make a sudden dash for safety? Or could it have been a snake? An owl or an eagle, which attacked the white rabbit and caused the rest of them to “save themselves”? If so, what caused the broken paw? And why did the rest of them die in the burrow? Was it due to suffocation? It’s a mystery.

If only “Grandpa” could speak.
___________________________________________________
Status updates

21st August 2004 , 3pm: Lin will be bringing “Grandpa” to the vet for a checkup tomorrow (22nd August 2004, Sunday) to ensure he is ok. And if he is fit enough, he will be sterilized.

22nd August 2004, 10am: The tragedy continued as all 3 remaining “survivors” including “Grandpa” were found dead in the school garden. Cause of death unknown.

23rd August 2004, 1:30pm: A security guard who was on duty on the night of 20th August 2004, told us that 3 stray dogs came through the fence at about 3 in the morning (of 21st August 2004). They somehow managed to get into the hutch to attack the rabbits - All 16 of them. Some of the rabbits were taken by the dogs, while others were left to die in the burrow. 3 survived the ordeal – But only for a day. They were attacked by the same 3 dogs again the following night.

In Conclusion: This has indeed been a very unfortunate incident and we wish to send our sincere condolences to the staff and students of the school. They took good care of the rabbits, however, we wish to remind all that despite love and care, accidents still do, and will happen. So please, if you know of anyone who keeps their pet rabbit outdoors or leaves them unprotected out in the open, caution them that they are exposing their pet (which by nature a prey animal) to various dangers and predators like stray dogs, cats, snakes, owls etc. This, amongst many others, is one of the reasons the House Rabbit Society (Singapore) encourages all pet rabbits to be kept indoors.

 

 



Lin with Nadiya at the rabbit enclosure.


2 of the 'survivors' munching on the veggies we brought.


A traumatized "Grandpa" refusing to eat.


The rabbit carcass found with no hind legs.

Sanz pointing to the burrow.


The picture which showed us that there were rabbits in the burrow.


The 2 rabbit carcasses which we pulled out from the burrow. The brown one's front paw was broken.


The 2 'survivors' saying goodbye before Muneer
sealed up the entrance.

 

 

 

 

 

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