Sometime between the last time I mowed the front yard and this time, a rabbit expired out there. I found his remains in the pre-mowing stage, when I walk around picking up all of the twigs and branches that have fallen since the last mowing.
At least I think it was a rabbit. Mostly it was just fur and bones and a few lingering maggots. The head was missing. It might have been a squirrel, but the color of the fur looked more like a rabbit and the length of the leg bones seemed in keeping with a creature that hops around rather than one that skitters and chatters. An intact head might not have helped with the identification either. I don’t think there are bones in the ears, and whatever ate the rest of the creature probably would have eaten those too. There are supposed to be coyotes in the neighborhood, though I haven’t seen one myself. We definitely have cats, and cats are not above rabbit killing. There are loose dogs sometimes too, and one or more might have contributed to the alleged rabbit’s demise. Other causes of death cannot be ruled out, I suppose. Perhaps Peter had a heart condition, and experienced a sudden fright. There might have been a mistimed foray across the busy street, an encounter with a speeding car. The body could have been dragged to it’s final resting place by a hawk or something, to be dined on by a series of opportunistic interlopers, driving away weaker scavengers and predators, in a drama unwitnessed by me because it happened in the front yard where, between mowings, I seldom go. In any event the forensic evidence was insufficient for me to make a determination as to what actually happened, because I don’t know anything about forensic evidence, and I am too squeamish around dead things to examine it in much detail even if I had the slightest idea of what I should be looking for, so the fate of the rabbit, if that is what it was, will all remain a mystery. We’ll just say it was a rabbit, and now it was a rabbit’s remains minus the head, and move forward.
I have seen rabbits in the front yard more often than squirrels, and applauded their good sense for being there rather than in the backyard which is patrolled by the greyhounds, who are enthusiastic rabbit chasers and, when possible, killers. The resident greyhounds are old and considerably slower than they used to be, both of them, so the most they can usually manage when they flush one is a merry chase, which ends in a fist-pumping victory for the bunny, after it has scrambled under the fence and escaped. When we have a foster dog, the scenario can play out a little worse for the hare. The foster dogs are fresh off the track, young and still blazing fast. Twice in the last year, the greyhounds have done the victory dance instead of the rabbit. However, as the corpse on the front lawn shows, making it out of the backyard doesn’t necessarily mean smooth sailing for the rabbit either. There are hazards everywhere.
Rabbit survival depends on the production of massive numbers of rabbits, since their defense mechanisms -standing still and running away- are clearly not sufficient. The tragedy for the individual rabbit, death on a horrified suburbanite’s poorly manicured lawn, is a matter of no great concern to the universe or even other rabbits. This rabbit lived and died unnoticed, except by whoever he shagged, if he was lucky, and whoever caught and killed him, if they were lucky, and whoever dined on his carcass, again lucky, and, finally, me, not so lucky. As President Lincoln might say, the world will little note nor long remember. It was just a rabbit.
The rabbit’s survival “strategy” of overpopulation, and I use the word with some hesitation since it implies rabbits came up with the plan consciously somewhere back at the dawn of their evolution, seems to be employed by humans too, in spite of our supposed reliance on big brains. Religion encourage us to keep populating the world in spite of dwindling resources, and even in countries where population control has gained some traction, defiant individuals continue to be fruitful and multiply like, well, rabbits, because the Bible told them so. Unfortunately the only enemy of humanity capable of keeping the human population in check is more humanity, so with this model our survival depends on war, famine, and disease to keep our numbers manageable, in the same way the rabbit “strategy” backfires if predators don’t keep culling the herd. I personally prefer a model in which individuals matter, but maybe biology is destiny for all the children of the world.