The article came out in December of 1996. I know this because I ripped it out of the National Geographic magazine and kept it in a file. I still have it. It was the picture that did it, you see: two men standing in front of a truckload of dead rabbits.
No, literally. There was a truck. The bed of the truck was loaded end to end with expired bunnies.
The article explained, very briefly, that Australia had a severe rabbit problem and that hunters like those in the picture killed millions of rabbits - a nonnative, invasive species - each year in an effort to save the native Australian animals that the rabbits were eating out of house and home. Now, scientists were creating rabbit-specific viruses in order to protect the Australian environment, but were subsequently putting such hunters out of a job.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it, such controversy over so small (and fuzzy) a thing. Seriously, rabbits? Who knew?
Not long afterwards, I discovered a different magazine that had more to say on the topic of Australian rabbits. Apparently some clever Aussies, realizing how hard it is to look good while killing small defenseless rabbits, were trying to rebrand themselves as the savior of the adorable, rabbit-like, 100% native-to-Australia Bilby. There was even a petition to replace the Easter Bunny (with an Easter Bilby, of course). This article, too, with its headline that read simply “Bunnies Must Die!”, was ripped from its magazine and placed in a file.
Sometime later, my tenth grade English teacher made an announcement: we were starting our nonfiction unit, which would culminate in a research paper. We were free to choose any topic we wanted.
Oh, I could not wait.
Finally, a chance to tell my classmates about this topic that had been so much on my mind for so many months! One cannot (or could not in those days) simply walk up to one's friends and say, “So have you heard this thing about the rabbits in Australia?” It just wasn't done. Now, I could lay it all out for my peers and foster a genuine discussion.
On the one hand, I loved animals, and rabbits were animals, and hunters were killing them in droves! On the other hand, I loved animals, and koalas were animals, and the rabbits were killing them in droves too! Plot twist: rabbit hunting created jobs, jobs easily attained by aborigines and unskilled laborers, while government-created rabbit-specific super-viruses not only killed defenseless rabbits but also destroyed jobs!
This would be the most thought-provoking paper of all time!
When it was time to present my report to the class, I was ready. I had an essay. I had sources. I had pictures. I felt that my cause was just and that my ways were justified. I volunteered to go first.
“And so, as you can see,” I said, “when you consider the research costs and the potential for dangerous mutations, these viruses aren’t the answer. Keeping the hunters employed is better for the economy. Either way, the bunnies must die.” At the conclusion of my report, my classmates and teacher stared at me in wide-eyed astonishment.
“Well, that was certainly interesting,” said my teacher as I took my seat. “Thank you, Tori. Who's next?”
That was it. So anti-climactic! No discussion, no questions, no arguments. Total silence. And into that total silence, my friend Ryan, who sat behind me, whispered, “Oh my God, Tori! Do you have any idea how heartless you sounded just now?”
“Rabbit killer,” they called me.
For weeks, I couldn’t sit through lunch in the cafeteria without saying, “No, you don't understand! It's only the ones in Australia that matter!”
The idea that you have no interest in killing ALL rabbits, only those in a specific geographic region, is apparently too broad of an idea for most 14-year-olds to grasp. Pictures of adorable bunnies showed up in my locker like fluffy accusations. One vegetarian classmate refused to speak to me at all. My best friends thought the situation was hilarious and cackled with glee as they chanted, “The Bunnies Must Die!” in their best maniacal voices.
I fumed, and I seethed, and I waited for the whole mess to go away forever.
“So can we talk about this thing with the rabbits in Australia?” a classmate asked before school one day.
“Oh, can we not?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“It’s just that I saw this and thought of you.” She held her hand out to me. “Blue’s your favorite color, right? Go ahead, take it. I got it from one of the prize machines at the grocery store.”
It was a lucky rabbit’s foot.
“Thank you,” I said, tying it to a zipper of my backpack. “I’m, uh…” I fumbled for something suitable to say. “I’m really not a rabbit killer, you know?”
“Oh, sure,” she said. “Just the ones in Australia. I get it.”
And that was the last I ever heard of it.