The European wild rabbit is a species of rabbit that is native to the Iberian Peninsula and small areas of France and when the Romans arrived in Spain they took wild rabbits back with them and kept them in fenced enclosures and farmed them for their meat and fur. Rabbits were also introduced onto islands by explorers with the aim of providing a food source when they returned and the rapid reproduction rate of rabbits meant that they successfully became established in the wild in most countries where they were introduced.
During the Middle Ages the breeding and farming of rabbits for meat and fur became widespread throughout Europe and this resulted in selective breeding to fix traits such as size and colour leading to distinct rabbit breeds being produced.
During Victorian times rabbits were one of the few animals that could be farmed for their meat by people living in towns but some also started to keep them as pets. Breeders developed new breeds by cross-breeding different breeds and established new colours as natural mutations occurred and rabbit societies and clubs were formed.
Today the wild European rabbit exists in every continent except for Asia and Antarctica and is considered an agricultural pest as they eat crops and compete with farm animals for forage. The most devastating example of this is seen in Australia when in 1859 a rich British landowner named Thomas Austin brought 24 rabbits into Australia to release for hunting on his land and these rabbits included both males and females. This introduction into the wild of the European rabbit resulted in a population explosion across Australia that resulted in decimated grassland used to graze sheep and cattle and resulted in plant species and wild animals competing for food being driven to the brink of extinction.
The domesticated European rabbit however is one of the most popular mammals kept as a pet in many countries today.