Searching for "silvery" rabbits at a breeders' fair


What in the world, you're probably wondering is that? What you're hearing is actually the sound of thousands of different domestic birds featured at the 28th European Breeders' Fair held this year in Prague, bringing together about 14,000 specimens of fowl and small furry animals. Jan Velinger was there and brought back - no, not a cuddly new pet - but this report.

They told me not to get too close - the little fuzzy rodent had big nasty fangs - but they were kidding of course, proud owners at this year's European Breeders exhibition keen on showing off their fowl or furry friends.

Among the first visitors I spoke to were Marie and Pavel Turin, a middle-aged couple listing through the inch-thick catalogue at the venue's entrance. I asked them what had inspired them to attend the fair.

"We want to see animals we couldn't see anywhere else, but we've just arrived so I don't know what we'll see just yet."

"That's true, but of course what we really want to see are the silvery rabbits."

Silvery rabbits, you ask? The Silver, as it is officially known, is a breed of rabbit that came from France in the late 19th century which, guidebooks will tell you, was called the "Riche". The Modern Silver has a short glossy coat and comes not just in grey but also in brown. Marie and Pavel Turin should know: they've been raising the animals for 18 years. I couldn't resist asking 'why'. Mrs Turin explained it was nothing less than a passion.

"I've been fond of rabbits since I was a child. It's like collecting stamps. You invest a lot of time and money, but ultimately it's worth it."

I put forward - I admit - a rather cruel question of what happens to the lesser specimens. Do they, in fact, end up on the plate?

"Of course. We've got several different recipes: rabbits - na paprice - with paprika, or with garlic, roast with cream sauce."

Sounds good, but then I remember the story my father used to tell me about being a small child in post-war Czechoslovakia - yes, it was the story of a pet rabbit named Honzicek - who disappeared just before Christmas... and reappeared for dinner. My father also got new furry mittens. He is still traumatised by the memory.

But, back to the fair. After all it wasn't just rabbits on display but birds: geese, chicken, roosters literally thousands of fine-feathered friends - the sound of their squawking like so many fingernails scratched across the chalkboard. But, in a way it was kind of cute.

From the fair itself:

"This seems to be some kind of a duck with a black pom-pom on its head, but reading the list here, because it's written in German, there's no way to tell just what that really is."

Yes, when it comes to small animal breeding I am at a loss: just as far from a small animal breeder as one could be.

But that didn't stop me from investing in a few issues of 'Chovatel' magazine before I left - that's 'Breeder's magazine' in Czech - a publication which will hopefully fill me on what to look out for in a gerbil, or desert rat, so that the next time the fair comes around I'll be the wiser: capable of recognising the finer points I am at such a loss to appreciate now.