When you first hear the name “Alaska Rabbit,” chances are that you’ll assume this is a rabbit that hails from the untamed wilderness of the Alaskan frontier. Interesting to note, however, is that the first Alaska rabbits were bred and developed in Germany. Perhaps even more curious is that, despite the name and this rabbit’s unique history, they are currently an unrecognized breed in the United States.
An Introduction to the Alaska Rabbit
It was Max Gotha, a German rabbit judge, who first collaborated with a fellow German rabbit breeder and decided to attempt to create a new breed of rabbit. Dating clear back to 1900, the original idea for this new breed was to create a black-as-pitch bunny with long white guard hairs, resembling the popular Alaskan Fox. The Alaskan Fox was a very popular animal in the fur trade at the time, with fox pelts earning top dollar. Consequently, by creating a rabbit that could mimic the Alaskan Fox, Gotha believed that he would have a good market for his rabbit pelts. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever bred rabbits can usually attest to, the genetics game rarely ever goes exactly as planned.
Instead of getting a black rabbit with the desired long silvering hairs, the Alaska rabbit instead turned out to be a breed that possessed intensely black coloration and long glossy black guard hairs that gave the rabbit a uniquely beautiful sheen. Its jet black coat was dense yet lustrous and the color had a rich shade that was uncommon in its intensity. Rather than continue to breed for the silver fox-like coat that they had originally planned, Gotha and his friend chose to let this beautiful breed remain as it was.
In 1907, the first Alaska rabbits were exhibited at a rabbit show in Europe and the breed would quickly gain recognition. Years later, they would make their trip to Canada and eventually into the United States, where the Alaska rabbit became a recognized breed during the mid-1970’s. This was short-lived, however, as the Havana rabbit was also recognized as a breed in 1980. When popularity soared for the Havana rabbit, it greatly diminished for the Alaska and, in 1981, they were dropped from the ARBA registry. While some breeders had hoped otherwise, the breed has yet to make a comeback in the United States.
The Alaska Rabbit Description
The Alaska rabbit is a medium sized breed, weighing in between 7-9 pounds as mature adults. They have a well-rounded and balanced body with a solid block type and, while not as compact as other breeds, they have good bone development for their size. Bucks (males) have a little heavier type, while does (females) tend to have more feminine features and are permitted to have a dewlap (a roll of skin at the neck, often giving the appearance that the rabbit’s head is resting on a cushion of fur).
A self or solid-colored breed, the Alaska rabbit only comes in one color – black. The undercolor of the coat, near the skin, is usually a deep slate blue and turns jet black the closer it gets to the surface. While the belly and pads of the feet are often a matte black, the top and sides of the Alaska rabbit are vibrantly colored, the fur being silky and lustrous black, with a glossy sheen. The Alaska should have all-dark toenails and dark brown eyes; while a couple of white hairs sprinkled into the fur are permissible, an abundance of stray white hairs are a flaw and white spots or patches are a disqualification.
The Future of the Alaska Rabbit
While the Alaska rabbit enjoys popularity and regular exhibition in shows throughout Europe, he has yet to regain popularity in the United States. To date, it is uncertain if anyone is still actively breeding this beautiful rabbit within the country, though fans certainly hope this is the case. If you’re looking for a breed of rabbit to champion, be sure to give this beautiful black bunny a thought – Hopefully, by raising awareness and supporting the Alaska rabbit breed, they may return to the United States and once again become a registered breed of the American Rabbit Breeders Association.
Personal experience as a long-time rabbit breeder
http://www.raising-rabbits.com/alaska-rabbit.html – Information on the origins of the Alaska rabbit
http://www.thebrc.org/alaska.htm – Breed standard from the British Rabbit Council