Wild rabbit restocking: Suitable acclimation conditions foster adaptive behaviour and improve survival of captive reared rabbits

R. D. Machado, P. Magalhães, S. Godinho, P. Santos


Wild rabbit is a very important species in the Mediterranean region. Its relevance is both ecological, being a keystone species —prey for several predators— and economic, as it is the most important and the most managed small game species among mammals in the Iberian Peninsula. Although both researchers and game managers claim restocking operations have moderate to low success, it is still one of the management measures often used by conservationists and hunters to recover or boost wild rabbit populations. The high mortality usually verified in the first days after release is the main limiting factor in rabbit restocking. Based on practical research, protocols have improved, pointing out good practices and suggestions to increase success. Adopting soft instead of hard-release protocols has been proven to increase short-term survival after liberation. Aware that purchased rabbits seldom display a quick adaptation to the field, we performed two restocking experiments with different conditions (acclimation period and park size) in order to compare the outcomes in terms of survival rate. The rabbit batch that experienced a longer acclimation period in a larger park showed higher survival rates, as well as more frequent and much larger spatial movements. These results suggest that proper conditions during acclimation may contribute to the success of wild rabbit restocking operations.


rabbit; Oryctolagus cuniculus; space use; game management; wildlife conservation

Full Text:



Abrantes J., Lopes A.M., Dalton K.P., Melo P., Correia J.J, Ramada M., Alves P.C., Parra F., Esteves P.J. 2013. New variant of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, Portugal, 2012–2013 [letter]. Emerg. Infect. Dis., 19: 1900-1902. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid1911.130908

ANF 2012. Hunting records gathered by the Portuguese National Forestry Authority (2001-2011). Unpublished data.

Beyer H. L. 2004. Hawth’s analysis tools for ArcGIS. Available at: http://www.spatialecology.com/htools. Accessed May 2015.

Calvete C., Estrada R. 2004. Short-term survival and dispersal of translocated European wild rabbits. Improving the release protocol. Biol. Conserv., 120: 507-516. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2004.03.023

Calvete C., Villafuerte R., Lucientes J., Osácar J.J. 1997. Effectiveness of traditional wild rabbit restocking in Spain. J. Zool., 241: 271-277. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1997.tb01957.x

Delibes M. 1979. Le lynx dans la Peninsule Ibérique: répartition et regression. Bulletin Mensuel de l’Office National de la Chasse, Numéro Special, Scientifique et Technique, Le Lynx: 41-46.

Delibes M. 2002. Qué sabemos y qué necesitamos saber para conservar al lince ibérico? Proceedings International Seminar on the Iberian lynx, Andújar Spain, 29-31 October 2002: 4-5.

Delibes M., Hiraldo F. 1981. The rabbit as prey in the Iberian Mediterranean ecosystem. In: Myers K., MacInnes C.D. (ed). Proceedings of the World Lagomorph Conference. University of Guelph, Ontario, 614-622.

Delibes M., Rodríguez A., Ferreras P. 2000. Action plan for the conservation of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Europe. WWF – Mediterranean program.

Delibes-Mateos M., Delibes M., Ferreras P., Villafuerte R. 2008a. Key role of European rabbits in the conservation of the western Mediterranean Basin Hotspot. Conserv. Biol., 22: 1106-1117. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00993.x

Delibes-Mateos M., Ferreras P., Villafuerte R,. 2008b. Rabbit populations and game management: the situation after 15 years of rabbit hemorrhagic disease in central-southern Spain. Biodivers. Conserv., 17: 559-574. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-007-9272-5

Devillard S., Aubineau J., Berger F., Léonard Y., Roobrouck A., Marchandeau S. 2008. Home range of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in three contrasting French populations. Mamm. Biol., 73: 128-137. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mambio.2007.01.003

ESRI. 2009. ArcGIS Desktop: Release 9.3.1. Redlands, CA: Environmental Systems Research Institute.

Ferreira C. 2012. European rabbit research in the Iberian Peninsula: state of the art and future perspectives. Eur. J. Wildlife Res., 58: 885-895. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-012-0664-9

Ferrer M., Negro J. 2004. The near extinction of two large European predators: super specialists pay a price. Conserv. Biol., 18: 344-349. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00096.x

Gálvez-Bravo L., Belliure J., Rebollo S. 2009. European rabbits as ecosystem engineers: warrens increase density and diversity of lizards. Biodivers. Conserv., 18: 869-885.


Garrido J.L. 2012. La caza. Sector económico. Valoración por subsectores. FEDENCA-EEC, Madrid.

González-Redondo P., Sánchez-Martínez R. 2014. Characterisation of wild rabbit commercial game farms in Spain. World Rabbit Sci., 22: 51-58. https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs.2014.1213

Guil F., Higuero R., Moreno-Opo R. 2014. European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) restocking: effects on abundance and spatial distribution. Wildlife Soc. B., 38: 524-529. https://doi.org/10.1002/wsb.440

Guzmán J.N., García F.J., Garrote G., Pérez-de-Ayala R., Iglesias M.C. 2002. Censo-diagnostico de las poblaciones de Lince Ibérico Lynx pardinus en España. DGCN, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Madrid.

Guzmán J.N., García F.J., Garrote G., Pérez-de-Ayala R., Iglesias M.C. 2004. El Lince ibérico (Lynx pardinus) en España y Portugal. Censo-diagnóstico de sus poblaciones. DGCN, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Madrid.

IUCN. 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-1. Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org. Accessed May 2017.

Letty J., Marchandeau S., Reitz F., Clobert J., Sarrazin F. 2002. Survival and movements of translocated wild rabbits. Game & Wildlife Science. 19: 1-23.

Letty J., Aubineau J., Marchandeau S. 2008. Improving rabbit restocking success: a review of field experiments in France. In: Alves P. C., Ferrand N., Hackländer K. (ed). Lagomorph biology: evolution, ecology and conservation. Springer-Verlag, Berlin/Heidelberg, Germany, 327-348.

Life+IBERLINCE. 2014. Recovery of the historical distribution for Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Spain and Portugal. (LIFE10NAT/ES/570) Censo de las poblaciones andaluzas de lince ibérico, año 2014. Available at: http://www.iberlince.eu/images/docs/3_InformesLIFE/Informe_censo_2014.pdf. Accessed May 2017.

Mohr C.O. 1947. Table of equivalent populations of North American small mammals. Am. Midl. Nat., 37: 223-249. https://doi.org/10.2307/2421652

Moreno S., Villafuerte R. 1995. Traditional management of scrubland for the conservation of rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus, and their predators in Doñana National Park, Spain. Biol. Conserv., 73: 81-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/0006-3207(95)90069-1

Moreno S., Villafuerte R., Cabezas S., Lombardi L. 2004. Wild rabbit restocking for predator conservation in Spain. Biol. Conserv., 118: 183-193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2003.07.020

Moreno S., Beltran J. F., Cotilla I., Kuffner B., Laffite R, Jordán G., Ayala J., Quintero C., Jiménez A., Castro F., Cabezas S., Villafuerte R. 2007. Long-term decline of the European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in south-western Spain. Wildlife Res., 34: 652-658. https://doi.org/10.1071/WR06142

Paixão R., Godinho S., Santos P. 2009. Is the Nature 2000 Network associated with small-game bag results? Eur. J. Wildlife Res., 55: 553-559. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-009-0274-3

Rivas-Martínez S., Loidi J. 1999. Biogeography of the Iberian Peninsula. Itinera Geobot., 13: 49-67.

Rodríguez A., Calzada J. 2015. Lynx pardinus. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Version 2015.2. Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org Accessed June 2015.

Rodríguez A., Delibes M. 1992. Current range and status of the Iberian lynx Felis pardina Temminck, 1824 in Spain. Biol. Conserv., 61: 189-196. https://doi.org/10.1016/0006-3207(92)91115-9

Rodríguez A., Delibes M. 2004. Patterns and causes of nonnatural mortality in the Iberian lynx during a 40-year period of range contraction. Biol. Conserv., 118: 151-161. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2003.07.018

Rouco C., Ferreras P., Castro F., Villafuerte R. 2010. A longer confinement period favors European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) survival during soft releases in low-cover habitats. Eur. J. Wildlife Res., 56: 215-219. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-009-0305-0

Sarmento P., Cruz J., Monterroso P., Tarroso P., Ferreira C., Negrões N., Eira C. 2009. Status survey of critically endangered Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus in Portugal. Eur. J. Wildlife Res., 55: 247–253. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-008-0240-5

Teixeira C., Azevedo C., Mendl M., Cipreste C., Young R.J. 2007. Revisiting translocation and reintroduction programmes: the importance of considering stress. Anim. Behav., 73: 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2006.06.002

Villafuerte R., Viñuela J., Blanco J.C. 1998. Extensive predator persecution caused by population crash in a game species: the case of red kites and rabbits in Spain. Biol. Conserv., 84: 181-188. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3207(97)00094-3

Villafuerte R., Calvete C., Angulo E., Moreno S., de la Puente A., Branco M. 2001. Análisis de la efectividad de las repoblaciones de conejo en Doñana y otras medidas de gestión en el Parque Nacional Doñana. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas – Organismo Autónomo de Parques, Spain.

Waas J.R., Ingram J.R., Matthews L.R. 1997. Physiological responses of red deer (Cervus elaphus) to conditions experienced during road transport. Physiol. Behav., 61: 931-938.


Willot S.J., Miller A.J., Incoll L.D., Compton S.G. 2000. The contribution of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.) to soil fertility in semi-arid Spain. Biol. Fert. Soils, 31: 379-384. https://doi.org/10.1007/s003749900183

Abstract Views

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


Cited-By (articles included in Crossref)

This journal is a Crossref Cited-by Linking member. This list shows the references that citing the article automatically, if there are. For more information about the system please visit Crossref site

1. Does wild rabbit population size affect connectivity?
R. Machado, P. Santos
World Rabbit Science  vol: 27  issue: 4  first page: 207  year: 2019  
doi: 10.4995/wrs.2019.12068

 Universitat Politècnica de València

Official journal of the World Rabbit Science Association (WRSA)

e-ISSN: 1989-8886     ISSN: 1257-5011  https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs