World 2022-05-15T04:47:07+03:00
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Dispatch from Hotan: Hey bunny, where are the guys?

Dispatch from Hotan: Hey bunny, where are the guys?

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Journalists with the Journalists with the "A Date with China" international media tour visit a breeding center in Hotan county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on May 22, 2021. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

You just can't resist the urge to woo and ah in their presence, all cuddly balls of fluffy hair with big white ears and tiny teeny tails. The bunnies are so cute that you want to touch and hold them. Some even want to eat them as well - literally. What? How could you do that? They are so lovely.

It was with such mixed feelings of excitement and self-denial that journalists with the "A Date with China" international media tour paid a visit recently to a meat rabbit breeding center in Hotan county, in the south of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. The center, as well as the breeding industry it promotes in the area, is part of the local government's expansive plans to fight rural poverty, consolidate regional employment and raise people's livelihoods.

A member of the A member of the "A Date with China" international media tour takes a selfie video at a breeding center in Hotan county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on May 22, 2021. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Launched in March 2019, the center has 96 breeding houses and about 200,000 meat rabbits at the moment. The breeding houses - which look like freight containers from the outside, only much larger and longer - are cavernous. A corridor runs through the middle. On each side, behind thick glass, are 896 rabbits munching at their feeders in their separate coops.

Curiously there are no windows. While fluorescent lamps overhead provided most of the light, He Bo, the breeding center manager was quick to point out that the lamps were turned on only for the visit and are usually turned off all day long. If there is any natural light, it's meager, leaking weakly from the four shaded air vents at each end of the house.

"Usually we would be in complete darkness here," he said. There were audible gasps from the media group.

A journalist with the A journalist with the "A Date with China" international media tour talks with a Uygur translator (first left) at a breeding center in Hotan county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on May 22, 2021. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The odd design has to do with the center's innovative breeding method. According to He, a week-long exposure to light is enough to arouse the adult rabbits into heat. To maximize efficiency and minimize labor costs, light exposure is tightly controlled to synchronize the rabbits' growth, heat period, artificial insemination, breeding, weaning and ultimate sales for meat.

Artificial insemination? Interesting! So how do you know which rabbit is female and which one is male?

"The rabbits here are all female," the manager assured the visitors, matter-of-factually.

Pet rabbits are seen at a breeding center in Hotan county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on May 22, 2021. [Photo/chinadaily.com.cn]Pet rabbits are seen at a breeding center in Hotan county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on May 22, 2021. [Photo/chinadaily.com.cn]

The image took a moment to sink in, 896 fattening themselves in complete darkness in their lonely nests, not a single male around, except those of the human. Then one day there is a jab and she is pregnant. Poor bunny!

"Don't worry, it will be very fast," He said with gleeful nonchalance. "We can finish the 896 rabbits here in three hours." So about 12 seconds each? Poor, poor bunny!

The manager went on to explain that the rabbits at the center are raised for breeding mostly and would be given to local farmers. It's those second-generation rabbits from local farmers' individual dark houses that would be sold for meat. Everything from fodder to inoculation, to artificial insemination and sales are either provided for or supported by the breeding center, with local government's full backing, all to make sure the locals benefit most from the project.

According to He, there are 2,742 local households in 10 villages or towns near the center who have joined the rabbit-breeding project. Each household can produce on average about 4,000 rabbits each year, bringing in over 20,000 yuan ($3,127) in cash. Most of China's meat rabbits are sold to Southwest China’s Sichuan province and Chongqing, famed for its fiery dishes, especially hot pot, as well as a craving for rabbit meat. It’s reported that over 300 million rabbits are consumed there each year.

The breeding center in Hotan also has dozens of pet rabbits, all cute little fluffy balls. According to He, the center is expected to add a family-friendly cultural and entertainment park to its operation in the future.

"It's already in our plan for third-phrase development," he said and more rabbit cuisines and ready-to-eat snacks will be created. You can eat it if you want, but by then at least you can play with a bunny too.

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