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New Zealand: Rare
Importation: 1980s

Californian Rabbits

A Rare Breed of North American Origin

Californian rabbit
Californian rabbit (Photo by Sitereh Schouten)

In the early twentieth century around 100,000 families in California (United States of America) were breeding rabbits to help resolve a shortage of rabbit skins. During the 1920s a new breed was developed in California to have good meat as well as good fur, and when the United States Government established an experimental station to further develop rabbits in the late 1920s, concern was expressed in New Zealand that it was likely to affect the rabbit export industry both here and in Australia.

By the end of the twentieth century the Californian rabbit had become one of the most popular meat-producing breeds of rabbit in the world, and it has helped the lives of many people in developing countries where breeding programmes had been set up.

Once the American Rabbit Breeders Association accepted a standard for them as a show breed they spread to every country in the world where rabbits were shown.

Californian rabbit
Californian rabbit (Photo by Sitereh Schouten)

The Californian has been described as “a brick with a head.” The body is very plump and full over and around the hips, carrying on to a firm and meaty saddle and shoulders, with a well shaped head on a short neck.

Its colour pattern is very striking with a solid white body carrying a dark nose, ears, feet and tail. The undercoat is thick and dense, with a lot of coarser guard hairs. The coat will resume its normal position after being rubbed in any direction. There are three colours of points accepted by the Rabbit Council of New Zealand – black, chocolate and blue.

The approximate weight for adult buck is 3.5 to 4.5 kilograms, and an adult doe is 3.8 to 4.7 kilograms.

Californians were introduced into New Zealand as a dual purpose rabbit for fur and meat. When numbers became low they were crossed with other breeds in an attempt to improve the blood line. This cross could have been the cause of a one kilogram reduction in weight over the years. Ironically, the reduction in size restricted the Californian’s commercial potential, turning it more into a nice looking show rabbit.

In 2011 there were about 30 Californian rabbits in New Zealand.

(If you would like to help breeders not only increase Californian numbers, but help get this appealing looking rabbit back up to its commercial weight, contact the Rabbit Council of New Zealand, P O Box 56-285, Dominion Road, Mt Eden, Auckland. Email: rcnzsecretary (at)

Thanks to Sitereh Schouten of Natures Pace for the above information and photographs.
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