China’s Year of the Rabbit: Not So Great For All Those Abducted Baby Rabbits

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ROMEO GACAD / AFP / Getty Images

2011 is, by the Chinese zodiac cycle, the Year of the Rabbit, which is far worse news for baby bunnies than you might imagine.

As China hippity-hops into the Lunar New Year, street vendors, pet shops and flower stalls across the mainland (and in other parts of Asia) are selling infant rabbits en masse. To meet a surging demand for the little furballs, the prices of which have been significantly raised, vendors often wrench them from their mothers much too early.

Rarely do the bunnies, once purchased, survive the trip home. Those that do make it are usually abandoned by owners who very quickly tire of their new pets.

(See TIME’s top 10 animal stories of 2010.)

Web retailers have also jumped on the bunny bandwagon, posting rabbits illegally by regular mail to online customers. Most of the hares are dead on arrival, having suffocated or frozen to death in their cardboard confines, but that hasn’t slowed a proliferation of orders. According to Shanghaiist, these companies demand that the rabbit corpses be returned to them if consumers want a refund.

PETA and other animal rights groups have issued statements imploring Chinese residents not to buy into the egregious trend. “There’s no better time to help rabbits than during the Year of the Rabbit, and you can do so by refusing to support the pet trade that causes so many animals to suffer,” Maggie Chen, a Beijing-based PETA campaigner, told the AFP.

(Read “Energizer Bunnies: Turning Rabbits into Green Fuel.”)

The rabbits are being disposed of in dumpsters and mailboxes by ill-equipped New Year’s celebrators who fail to realize how fragile and high-maintenance a bunny can be. “Rabbits aren’t just cute and fluffy,” Chen says, noting that the animals, like any other pets, require a significant amount of attention and veterinary care.

The hares are seen as bringers of luck, but a dead bunny doesn’t seem like a particularly good omen for the future. (via Shanghiist)