What do we know about rabbits and what can they teach us about humankind? How did they associate us with them, as friend or foe? How does their history meet with our own conflicts? What have they led us to do and vice versa? To try to answer these questions, it is necessary to connect various times and places, by retracing multiple and interrupted trajectories, places and times, brought together incongruously. In Man’s worst friend (1), Catherine Mougenot and Lucienne Strivay, show us the rabbit in all its aspects. While it is appreciated for its meat, fur and gentle nature, it has also turned out to be an invader that is difficult to drive out and even – it must be said – eradicate. Let’s take a brief look at the living conditions of this small animal which has the habit of nosing in where you least expect it.
At the origin of all domestic rabbits, the wild rabbit has always lived alongside humans. Originally from the Iberian peninsula, oryctolagus cuniculus belongs to the family of leporids. Nowadays, it can be found on all the continents (except for Antarctica) and on 800 islands or groups of islands. Despite thinking we knew everything about it, the two authors of this work have proved us wrong. “We’ve discovered that what we know about the rabbit is, in fact, highly fragmented and paradoxical”, explains Lucienne Strivay, responsible for the Anthropology of Nature classes in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences. “As we carried out our research, we quickly understood that it was going to completely outflank us!” And that’s because the rabbit pops up where we least expect it to and in the most unlikely situations. “Our research wouldn’t have been possible without the internet”, continues Catherine Mougenot, Head of Works in the Department of Sciences and Environmental Management. “Today, this source of documentation is very interesting because it allows us to compile documents from many different eras and from various fields of knowledge.” The rabbit’s way of life, its diseases, its introduction to new countries, but especially its presence in unexpected forms, opens up new spheres: ecological imperialism, the complex involvement of the animals in human power and economic games, policies at the risk of strategies concerning struggles or protection, the absolute impossibility for us in the living world to truly separate the sensitive and the intelligible.
(1) Mougenot C., Strivay L., Le pire ami de l’homme. Du lapin de garenne aux guerres biologiques., La Découverte, coll. Les empêcheurs de tourner en rond, 2011.