Avoidance of novel objects by rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.)

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Neophobia (fear of new stimuli) is an important component of mammalian behavioural ecology. In addition, information on neophobia in pest species could be of great significance in targetting control measures and predicting changes in responses to them. Novel objects and an auditory stimulus were presented to individually marked wild rabbits living socially in clumped warrens in southern British farmland. Avoidance of stimuli was measured by scan sampling of rabbits' locations, in replicated experiments. Rabbits avoided a variety of novel objects by staying below ground, and by changing their activity ranges. Responses to different stimuli were correlated within individuals. There were non-significant differences in the degree of avoidance elicited by novel visual stimuli. The most important factors in avoidance were distance from the stimulus, number of previous presentations, and rabbit identity. Individual characteristics, including sex, social rank, and trappability, were less important determinants of neophobia, although dominant females were significantly more neophobic than were non-dominant ones. Only one or two presentations were required for attenuation of avoidance, so novel objects would be of limited application to crop protection. However, equipment used for delivering control measures should also quickly become accepted by rabbits. The measured avoidance and its attenuation indicate that rabbits assessed and responded to their surroundings with high precision, with significant individual variation consistent over stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-283
Number of pages11
JournalWildlife Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1998

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