Thousands of adorable baby rabbits, chicks and ducks are purchased every Easter, with most dying or abandoned before their first birthday. Animal shelters are overwhelmed every year with bunnies that were once Easter gifts. Almost 80 percent of bunnies found in shelters were once in an Easter basket.
Animal rescue and humane society staff want to stress to adults that nearly 95 percent of Easter bunnies end up euthanized at a shelter or killed by a predator in the wild. Children quickly lose interest as the animal grows up, and parents find themselves unable or unwilling to care for the animal.
Rabbits are the third most surrendered animal in the country, following only dogs and cats. Some people choose to turn them loose in the wild after the fun has worn off, often because they cannot find a shelter that will accept them due to the surplus of unwanted Easter animals. But Easter basket ducks, chicks, and bunnies are domestic species. If they are not killed by a predator they will likely die of exposure or starvation.
The Easter basket duckling really has no similarity to wild ducks, outside of the fact that they can float. Because these ducks are heavier than wild ducks they cannot fly, so are unable to migrate. These earthbound ducks become easy targets for predators.
Ducks are not good house pets. They need access to water, like a pond, and get depressed if they do not get enough attention. A duck can live 20 years, so buying that duckling is a long-term commitment.
Chickens, particularly roosters, are illegal in some areas, or may require a license to raise. Chickens can live eight to 10 years. And chickens are not very exciting pets once the cuteness wears off.
Domestic ducklings and chicks are byproducts of the food industry, cast-off left from over breeding. Many baby chicks are males that are unwanted in a food industry only interested in hens, who lay eggs. A quarter of a billion male chicks are disposed of by chicken hatcheries every year. These birds do not come from happy farms.
Bunnies also make poor pets, and frequently end up going from the Easter basket to the shelter after a child’s parents begin to realize this. Rabbits are skittish and can be antisocial. Baby bunnies are fragile and may be injured by a child that only wants to cuddle. They may also scratch or bite the child. Rabbits need brushing, nail trimming, neutering, potty training, and a bunny-proof home. They chew things and get into trouble when bored. Rabbits may have a life span of 10 years or more. Another long-term commitment.
Rabbit have shady breeding practices too. Pet store, rabbit mill or breeder, buying always encourages more breeding when there is already a surplus. Baby animals are in demand, adult animals are not.
Giving a bird can be a health danger to small children. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), young birds often carry salmonella in their intestinal tracts, which contaminates their environment and the entire surface of the animal. A child is exposed simply by holding or cuddling the bird. Every year some children are infected with salmonella after getting a duckling or chick for Easter. Pregnant women and the elderly are at risk as well.
There are some humane suggestions from various sources that will allow a child to interact with animals, without committing to actually raising one. Take the child to an animal sanctuary and let them see animals in natural surroundings that are well cared for. Or visit a farm or a petting zoo. Go to an animal shelter. Some businesses offer the availability to rent a bunny or chick, which still may not be ethical but better than buying.
Craigslist, Pinterest, and Facebook are all posting notices advising not to give bunnies or chicks for Easter. The best option is still to get a stuffed or chocolate Easter bunny for the basket, and save the real rabbits from being abandoned to shelters or killed in the wild. And if an Easter rabbit is an absolute must, consider adopting one from a shelter. Apparently they have plenty.
By Beth A. Balen