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Monster Rabbit Stalks U.K. Village (But No Sign of Wallace or Gromit)

James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
April 11, 2006
 
It's a scenario straight out of a Wallace and Gromit movie: An enormous rabbit is laying waste to vegetable plots in an English village, according to reports.

The news was first dismissed as an April Fool's joke. But residents of Felton in northeast England have confirmed that a huge, floppy-eared creature is leaving behind giant paw prints and a trail of destroyed carrots, leeks, onions, and turnips following nighttime raids.

(Wallpaper: non-scary rabbit devours corn on the cob.)

The reportedly black and brown, dog-size bunny could be an escaped giant breed of pet rabbit, experts say.

The tale has uncanny similarities to The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the 2005 Wallace and Gromit animated film. The plot centers on a ravenous "were-rabbit" that starts chomping through prize vegetables just before the annual growing contest.

In the Oscar-winning movie, Wallace and his dog, Gromit, advocate humane pest-control methods.

The real-life rabbit—Bigs Bunny, as it's been called—faces a shoot-to-kill policy.

The bunny hunt is focusing on public land where 12 local residents grow plants to eat and to enter in summer vegetable competitions.

One of the gardeners, Jeff Smith, first spotted the rabbit in Felton in February. He described it as "a monster" with footprints bigger than a deer's.

"What the Hell Is That?"

"The first time I saw it I said, 'What the hell is that?'" Smith told local newspaper the Northumberland Gazette.

Three other villagers have also reported seeing the animal.

"It is a brute of a thing, absolutely massive," Smith added. "We have got two lads here trying to shoot it but they never see it."

Brian Cadman, who is hunting the animal, admits the rabbit is proving elusive.

"You can see what it's been eating," he told the BBC. "It's been taking huge bites out of cabbages, carrots and turnips. It's a hungry fellow."

Rabbit experts say the animal could be an escaped giant domestic rabbit. Some pet breeds can grow to more than three feet (one meter) in length.

England currently claims the world's largest bunny, a giant continental rabbit named Roberto, which lives with the owners of a pet store in Worcester. He weighs in at 35 pounds (15.9 kilograms) and measures 3 feet, 6 inches (107 centimeters) long.

Originally bred for their meat, other massive breeds include the British giant and the Flemish giant.

Escaped Pet?

Such a rabbit may have escaped from its hutch, said a spokesperson for the British Rabbit Council (BRC), based in Newark, England, which represents rabbit breeders in the United Kingdom.

"These rabbits can be aggressive," she added. "They'll see anybody off that enters their territory. This particular rabbit sounds like it's reverted to the wild."

Gordon Marshall is a show rabbit breeder and BRC representative for northern England.

He says pet rabbits have a habit of digging their way to freedom, especially if kept outside in a garden, and that they often interbreed with native populations.

"Some people are a bit naughty in that they buy a pet rabbit then get fed up with it and let it go," he added.

Marshall says that in recent years increasingly larger pet rabbit breeds have been imported to Britain.

"These rabbits have very large appetites," he added. "A giant continental can get through a couple of pounds [about a kilogram] of feed in a day. If they got into a garden, they would devastate a vegetable patch in no time. They'll eat nearly anything."

The success of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit may have made giant rabbits the latest must-have pet. But animal welfare groups say bunny-lovers should think twice before buying one—a sentiment that the gardeners of Felton would presumably second.

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