Okunoshima, a tiny island home to thousands of bunnies, was one of my highlights of Japan* despite the fact it was an absolute schlep to get to. I’ve always loved rabbits for being adorable, but their behaviour is defined by being prey animals. They spend all of their waking hours analysing where their next predator is, essentially living in a constant state of stress. Rabbits have been known to become paralysed and even die from panic at the sound of an approaching predator. On top of that they’re highly susceptible to diseases, have low intelligence, can’t vomit and have terrible defence mechanisms so the poor things often have a tough time in the wild.
Enter the bunnies at Okunoshima! The island is populated by rabbits ONLY, which means these animals are psychologically different to other rabbits. There’s no native diseases, no other species to share resources with, and without predators, they aren’t prey. I’m no animal behaviour specialist but this basically means they’re like the lions of their own little jungle. The Okunoshima rabbits are very outgoing animals with dusty fur, muddy, leathery feet and (in the elders), a bit of ear missing or a blinded eye. Pirate rabbits! The babies were the only ones with super-soft fur.
The island itself was a poison gas military base during WWII and has quite a bleak history. It’s far from a tourist spot with few signs and maps and certainly no guides or gift shops. It was kind of creepy wandering around between old ruins with blown out windows and through deserted look-out spots… or at least, creepy until you rustle your food bag and twenty eager bunnies appear. I’m not sure I would describe them as “tame” because they’re still wild and not submissive or trained. But they’re hugely confident, and will do anything to get food; they reminded me (behaviour-wise) of the seagulls in Brighton or the monkeys in Kenya who will chance anything to get a bite of your snack. Although I’ll take an adventurous rabbit over a bolshie seagull any day!
It’s very hard to describe so I’ve made a video! If you have 2 minutes to spare please watch because it does a far better job at capturing Okunoshima than my words and pictures ever could. :)
*I neglected to post about this back in April!