New Zealand Rabbit

What’s in a name? Would a New Zealand rabbit still be the same if called by any other name? Perhaps the American Red?

Surprisingly the New Zealand is the first true American breed with origins tied more closely to the Belgian Hare than any breed of rabbit from New Zealand.

At the turn of the last century Belgian Hares were everywhere. Rabbit Raisers in the US, England, Europe and of course Belgium were raising them. Excellent specimens were bought and sold for outrageous prices.

Breeding of the Belgian Hare had become so common that mutations causing Belgian Hare “sports” started showing up. These red and buff colored rabbits lacked the agouti coloration found in normal Belgian Hares.

Breeders used these modified Belgians and crossbred them with Flemish Giants. After culling and continually breeding these rabbits for a few years they had developed what would be known as the Golden Fawn. The Golden Fawns, a now long extinct breed, was then breed back into the Belgian Hares to intensify the red coloration.

Crossing of the Golden Fawns, Belgian Hares, Belgian Hare sports and the Flemish Giants was the logical next step in the minds of many breeders from the East coast to West. With limited communication back then it is likely the breeders did not even known what the others were doing.

By 1913, breeders from California and Indiana had both presented several reddish/fawn colored, meatier rabbits for show. Although they still maintained a stance similar to the Belgian Hare they were in fact a different breed. Despite the fact that they came from two states greatly separated by distance the rabbits appeared remarkably similar with the ones from California having better meat qualities. Both strains of “New Zealands” together became Americas first New Zealand Red Rabbits.

Already most breeders were calling the new breed of rabbits New Zealands. Others favored the name Californian Reds and American Reds.

So the question is how did a breed of rabbit created in the United States become known as the New Zealand rabbit?

Well its thanks to a booklet put out in 1918 by C.P. Gilmore, titled “The New Zealand Red Rabbit.” In it the author mentioned some rabbits that had been imported from New Zealand to both San Francisco and to Los Angeles. The New Zealand Red name connection is likely an assumption that the rabbits imported from New Zealand were used as the basis of the new breed. This assumption might be understandable for the Californian rabbits, but what about the ones coming out of Indiana?

C.P. Gilmoreā€™s story may be true then again it may not. Either way there is no denying that the New Zealand Red rabbits are an American original. What is true is that the New Zealand Reds bred from California were of the best representatives of the breed for many of the early years. Possibly due in part to the New Zealand rabbit import rumor and the excellence of Californian New Zealands that the name, New Zealand stuck with the breed.

As more New Zealands started showing up at shows and local and national clubs began to form, an official name vote was taken. In 1916 the New Zealand beat out the American Red as the breed name, despite the questionable connection to New Zealand.

As time went on the Belgian Hare went out of favor and the versatile New Zealand Red quickly took its place. New Zealand Reds were starting to emerge everywhere across the country.

To this day the New Zealand is a popular breed and is now accepted by the ARBA in Red, White, Black and Broken.