Friday, June 15, 2018

Jefferson Airplane – "White Rabbit" (1967)

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall

In 1859, a wealthy Englishman who had emigrated to Australia was disappointed that the hunting there was so poor.  So he asked his nephew to ship some rabbits to Australia.  He hoped those rabbits would breed rapidly and provide him with good hunting in the future.

A British hunting party (circa 1868
It seems that the new rabbits crossbred with Australia’s existing rabbits and formed a hybrid that thrived in that environment.  The Australian rabbit population exploded, and threatened to denude the entire continent of plant life – which would have devastated the local sheep and cattle industries.

Hunters and farmers were given carte blanche to shoot rabbits.  They shot millions of them each year, with no appreciable effect on the population explosion.  

Other rabbit-control techniques included trapping, poisons, and the deployment of ferrets, but nothing made a dent in vast numbers of rabbits that infested Australia.

Between 1901 and 1907, the Australian government built the world’s longest continuous fence – the 1139-mile-long State Barrier Fence of Western Australia – in an attempt to protect the sheep- and cattle-grazing areas of western Australia from rabbits:

The fence was maintained at first by boundary riders riding bicycles and later by riders astride camels. . . .  In 1910, a car was bought for fence inspection, but it was subject to punctured tires.  It was found the best way to inspect the fence was using buckboard buggies, pulled by two camels.

The fence helped, but was not completely effective – in part because some rabbits jumped over it or dug under it, but primarily because there were already some rabbits in western Australia when the fence was finished.

The State Barrier Fence today
Scientists began working on biological control methods in the late-19th century, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that they came up with an effective strategy for controlling the Australian rabbit population, which had grown to an estimated 600 MILLION!

When the myxoma virus was released into the rabbit population, it quickly reduced the wild rabbit population to only 100 million rabbits.

But those rabbits developed resistance to the myxoma virus, and the population had rebounded to 200 million to 300 million by 1991.

Recently, the government unleashed a deadly and very contagious strain of calicivirus, which causes rabbit haemorrhagic disease.  (Advantage, Australian scientists – for the time being, at least.)

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Australia is not the only place to be invaded by rabbits.

Click here to read a National Geographic story about Okunoshima, a small Japanese island that’s been dubbed “Rabbit Island”:

A rabbit-loving tourist on Okunoshima
A town on Whidbey Island, which sits in Puget Sound just north of Seattle, has been overrun by rabbits:

“There is feces everywhere and there are some illnesses that can be carried and transmitted,” Brian Miller, facilities director for South Whidbey School District, told [a Seattle television] station.  He added that rabbits recently dug up the middle school’s football field, which the district had to pay $80,000 to restore.   

The remote Scottish island of Canna – which was cleared of a serious rat infestation just a few years ago – is populated by only 19 human residents but thousands of rabbits.

The good people of Stockholm, Sweden have come up with a creative and practical solution to the problem of rabbit overpopulation.  

From The Local, an English-language Swedish news website:

Every year, the city of Stockholm kills off thousands of rabbits in an effort to protect trees and shrubbery in the city's extensive network of parks and green space.

According to Tommy Tuvunger with the Stockholm Traffic Office, the agency responsible for controlling the city's rodent and wild animal population, part of the problem rests with delinquent pet owners who decide to release their rabbits into the city's parks.

“Many of the released rabbits are tame,” he told the newspaper. . . .

Tuvunger explained that it doesn't take many newly released rabbits to do what rabbits are known for doing, much to the detriment of Stockholm's efforts to control the size of its rabbit population.

“People who think that the bunnies are cute and cuddly suddenly don't think they're as fun anymore and put the animals outside. They think, ‘There they can play with the other rabbits’,” he said.

Cleverly disguised Swedish rabbit hunters
Last year marked a new record for Stockholm's rabbit cull, with nearly 6,000 rabbits . . . being removed from Stockholm's parks.

But rather than simply disposing of the dead rabbits, the city instead froze them for eventual transport to a special heating plant in Karlskoga in central Sweden, where the bunny bodies are then burned as a form of bioenergy.

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Grace Slick wrote “White Rabbit” when she was singing with the Great Society, a short-lived San Francisco band whose members included her then-husband, Jerry Slick.

The Great Society was offered a recording contract by Columbia Records, but by the the time the mailman delivered the contract, Grace had decided to join the Jefferson Airplane.  (Signe Toly Anderson, the Airplane’s original lead singer, had just quit that band.)

Grace Slick
The White Rabbit was one of the most iconic characters in Alice in Wonderland, which Grace’s parents had read to her when she was a child.  “White Rabbit” was one of the first songs she ever wrote.

Click here to watch a video of the Airplane performing “White Rabbit” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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