Survival Instincts

One family I tutor for had two bunnies that the pet store promised them were both males. They were hoping that one of them was “just fat.” But the fat bunny was not “just fat.” He was a she and she was pregnant and she had babies. Now there are six bunnies.

Things were a bit hectic in the household in the aftermath of the bunny birth, and it was hard to settle down and focus on geometry. Friends of the ninth grader were over to determine which of the litter they would pick for their own pet. The baby bunnies didn’t have much personality, though. They lay in a pile in the middle of a fur nest their mother made for them, wriggly and pink and scarily fetal. The human, by comparison, appears the most fully formed of all God’s newborn creatures.

The fourth-grader and I peered into the cage-turned-nursery. “Why is that other bunny in a different cage?” I asked.

“Because the daddy bunny might eat the babies,” said the fourth-grader, seemingly unperturbed by the prospect of infanticide in nature. “And also because he was already trying to get more babies.” I didn’t press on the issue of whether how the daddy bunny made it evident he was “trying to get more babies.”

I bent very close to the nest of fur, trying to get a good look at one of the babies. The mommy bunny started moving around nearby. I remembered something I’d heard about how a mother bird will feign injury to distract predators from her young. I pulled away from the cage, not wanting to worry the mommy bunny. She looked at me warily and settled down. “I’m sorry,” I whispered to the mommy bunny. “I did not mean to threaten your young.”

When the daddy human came home from work, he greeted the new bunny family jovially. “There you are, you fine beast!” he said to the isolated father, with just the same measure of jocular manliness that embarrasses human fathers, that weird subtly sexual innuendo that is really smirking, “You had sex at least once!”

The daddy human is the animal lover in the house and he knows a lot about bunnies. Through our discussion I learned that the bunnies can get pregnant again on the same day they give birth, that they can breed eight times a year, and that they will only produce a full litter when there is a steady food supply, as there is in capitivty, allowing them to produce four babies at a time eight times a year. “I guess that’s why they call it breeding like rabbits,” I said. I also learned that the mother bunny grows extra hair on her chest while she’s pregnant so she can rip it out and make a nest for the young.

The daddy human then let the daddy bunny out of his cage and he started peeing and pooping all over the downstairs of the house. This was pretty much the end of productive geometry review for the ninth-grader, so I wished the new bunny family well and went on my way.

That same day, I was coming down Christopher Street toward the corner where it intersects with Bleecker when I saw the crowd waiting to cross all looking up at the sky. Without even cognatively processing it, I got a chill down my spine and tensed up in my shoulders. And then I realized what it was–9/11 has made the simple act of people looking up at something in the sky seem forboding and dangerous. That is how we humans are animals ourselves–we respond to perceived dangers at deep, nearly instaneous levels of which we are only faintly aware, not unlike a distressed mother bunny guarding her young in a cage in a Park Slope living room.

Leave A Comment