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Simple Beauty:
In Praise of the
New Zealand White

By Suzanne Rubins

As ice cream flavors become more and more elaborate, with chunks of various things mixed in, surveys show good old vanilla remains the most popular flavor. Unfortunately this is not true for the plain vanillas of the domestic rabbit world: the New Zealand Whites. Nearly everyone who calls our adoption line with a specific type in mind wants a dwarf or a Holland Lop, and most people don’t even want to meet the big white rabbits with the red eyes. Shelters who help out overcrowded affiliates by taking transfers sometimes ask them specifically not to send the whites because they are unlikely to be adopted. We sometimes pair them with a more colorful companion to increase their chances of finding a home, but they often wait a very long time. Lightning has been at the MSPCA Boston for six months.

New Zealand rabbits were selectively bred to have a high incidence of albinism to create a standardized white coat for testing dyes and cosmetics. Albinism is a relatively rare genetic defect found in most species of animals--including humans, including me--which limits production of the melanin which gives color in the hair/fur, skin and eyes. This results in poor vision and sensitivity to light, but otherwise there are no health problems. However, all unwanted rabbits are at risk, and the New Zealand Whites have an even tougher time than most finding good adoptive homes. So here I go to sing their praises and help them along a little.

I believe all true rabbit lovers must also love the New Zealand Whites, the Alice in Wonderland rabbits. Their snowy coats (well, sometimes they get smudged a little!) provide no distraction from our appreciation of their shapes and features. They have not been bred to look like stuffed toys, but have classic rabbit features: pear-shaped bodies, chunky back feet, feminine little dewlaps, noses with "character" and those sweet round cheeks. Some have slender faces and feet, but most are pretty hefty and muscular—plenty of bunny to love. The shorter fur on their ears allows delicate seashell colors of pink or lavender to show through. Finally, their gentle eyes have a range of shades from clear pale pink to ruby red. Even if this feature is not particularly appealing to you, remember that very little of your enjoyment of your pet rabbit depends on gazing intently into his eyes anyway! You may find yourself coming to appreciate their tenderness or just learning to ignore them.

Of course appearance is much less important than personality, and the New Zealands have a lot going for them on the character front. They generally share the calm, friendly disposition of other large rabbits, though of course individual differences and how they have been handled in the past are more important than breed. We have known many sweet and gregarious New Zealands that are very personable. So please consider one of these simple, beautiful animals when you look for a companion rabbit. Chances are there are several in the area waiting for a good home. Owning a New Zealand White will automatically give you credentials as a hard-core rabbit fan. Plus--if you already have an all-black bun, the combination makes for a cool "photograph and negative" effect!

Copyright 2001 Suzanne Rubins