Rabbit and leveret rearing at East Winch

Despite the cold weather, we’ve had an influx of baby rabbits and hares here at East Winch Wildlife Centre.

Over the past week alone, we’ve admitted two tiny baby rabbits and six leverets (baby hares). Three of the leverets were so small that we think they must be only a day or two old because they were all found together –  the the young normally disperse after a few days so that the whole litter is not lost in one go to a predator.

Similarities and differences

Nest of rabbit kittens © RSPCAWhile adult hares and rabbits look very similar , the babies have several differences. Baby rabbits are born in a burrow underground, have no fur and their eyes are closed until they are between 10 and 14 days old.

Leverets are born above ground in a depression called a form, are fully furred and their eyes are open. Both baby rabbits and leverets are visited by their mums once or twice a day for only a few minutes to feed. In this time, they guzzle enough high-fat milk to sustain them until the next visit.

Look but don’t touch!

We do wonder if some of the leverets brought to us were simply doing what they should be doing in the wild, laying still in their form waiting for mum to come and feed them but once they have been picked up, people often can’t remember exactly where they got them from so they can’t be returned.

If you do happen to come across a leveret or rabbit which you suspect has been abandoned, please don’t touch them – call the RSPCA’s helpline for advice on 0300 1234 999 or seek advice from any of the RSPCA’s wildlife centres. If the animal is clearly sick or injured, please take it straight to your nearest vet or RSPCA wildlife centre, or call 0300 1234 999 if you cannot transport it yourself.

All baby rabbits and hares stand a much better chance of survival with their mum.

Hand-rearing

Leveret being syringe-fed © RSPCA At the wildlife centre we do things a little differently to mum. We have a number of animals in care at any one time which all need to be fed at regular intervals, and the milk replacement we use is quite different compared to mum’s milk.

Hare and rabbit milk is higher in fat and contains special enzymes, which mean the babies can drink until they are full with no adverse affects. If we gave the rabbits and leverets a similar quantity of milk replacement it would result in the babies getting bloated, developing diarrhoea and becoming dangerously dehydrated. All these conditions can be fatal.

To try to prevent any of these things happening, we feed smaller amounts up to four times a day to ensure the babies are getting enough nutrients to develop and grow. We increase the quantity and decrease the frequency of feeds as the babies grow and gain weight.

Growing up

Whilst on milk, the babies will have had access to rabbit nuggets and dried forage but once fully weaned off milk, we start introducing fresh greens. This is done gradually, giving them time to develop a healthy immune system (in the wild they would naturally have had antibodies from their mum’s milk) before moving them to an outside run with a shelter attached.

Outside they can adjust to life outdoors and acclimatise to the good old British weather! Every few days they are weighed and once they reach their release weight it’s time to say goodbye.

Rabbits and leverets are very time-consuming to rear and, as mentioned earlier, it is not always successful so we are always delighted when they are released back to the wild.

- Jo Mead, wildlife centre supervisor

#WildAboutBritain

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