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Dartmoor Black Rabbits



Quite often when rambling around Dartmoor you come across something that makes you stop in your tracks and think  to yourself- “am I really seeing that?” Once you have confirmed that, yes, you are seeing that, the next question is usually – “how did that get there?” Many years ago whilst letterboxing around the Bench Tor area I was prodding and poking around the rocks when all of a sudden a small, dark shape shot out from under a large boulder. I think it was more unexpectedness of its appearance and the speed that it was travelling that initially startled me. Having regained my wits I could clearly see that the small, black figure had large ears and a shiny coat. Surely that cannot be a black rabbit I thought but yes it was sat still and was intently looking at me and twitching its nose. Unfortunately in those days I never carried a camera so photographic proof was never obtained. Clearly to observe such an animal in a domestic environment would be nothing out of the ordinary but to be running wild on Dartmoor was another matter. The most logical explanation was that perhaps it was a family pet that had either escaped or had been purposefully released on the Moor. There certainly were no signs of any other rabbits, black or otherwise in the area. So at the time I simply favoured the domestic rabbit theory.
In 2015 we along with some friends took a walk around the Pew tor area and were mooching around the old quarry that lies to the west of the tor. Suddenly a small, black figure shot out of the undergrowth and casually sat on a nearby rock. Yes, it was another black rabbit who seemed quite at home amongst the old workings of the quarry. Luckily Rhys had his camera at hand and as can be seen from his photo below black rabbits do exist on Dartmoor. The distance (as the crow flies) between the quarry and Bench Tor where I saw my first black rabbit is some ten miles. Therefore it seems improbable if not impossible that there is any connection between the two rabbits bearing in mind how far apart they were.
In the May of 2017 again in the company of the same friends we were walking around the Bellever Plantation and tor. On reaching the tor my friends were sat on the summit and lo and behold they saw another small, black figure. Unfortunately the rabbit was too quick in making his escape to get another photograph. Again, Bellever tor is some five miles from Bench Tor and seven miles from the Pew Tor quarry. Once again suggesting that these three creatures do not hail from the same gene pool.

The Pew Tor Rabbit

So the big question is; “how do black rabbits get to run wild on Dartmoor?” There are several possible theories as to how and in some cases why this should happen. In John Sheail’s book – ‘Rabbits and their history’ he notes how black rabbits were known to have been kept in the grounds of country houses and they were known as ‘parkers’. In some cases these ‘exotic’ rabbits escaped and managed to survive in the wild. Alternatively in medieval times black rabbits were reared in some warrens as their fur was much in demand for use as ornamental trimmings on clothing. p.25. Such was the importance of black rabbits that even King Henry VIII kept them in his royal warrens. A document from the accounts of Henry VIII read; “To Robert Bing, of the Wyke, smythe, for a great nagre (auger) of irne, to make and bore cony holes with the kynges beries new made for blake conyes in the warren.”p.43. Clearly it would have just been a matter of time and opportunity before such rabbits escaped from the warrens into the wilds. Another reason why some warrens kept black rabbits was to give the warreners indications that poachers were at work. These black rabbit would be allowed to mix freely with the other rabbits and because they were easy to spot their absence would soon be noticed and would indicate they, along with the other rabbits had been stolen. This would then allow the warreners to take preventive measures against the poachers. p.63. In both of the above cases there were plenty of country houses on and around Dartmoor along with numerous rabbit warrens. Therefore it could be possible that some ancestors of today’s black rabbits did in fact originate from one of these sources.

A very plausible explanation is that the black rabbits are merely a rare ‘freak’ of nature. Black wild rabbits are completely natural and are what’s described as being melanistic, This occurs when there is an over development of the melanin gene which leads to the dark colour. If both parents carry the gene then the greater the possibility of a really black rabbit becomes.

Finally, as noted above it could be that some of today’s black rabbits have either escaped from peoples gardens and have resettled on Dartmoor or have been intentionally released on the Moor. What would be really interesting to know is how many wild black rabbits are there on Dartmoor and where do they occur. Should anyone spot a black rabbit on Dartmoor it would be really helpful if they could let me know where and when it was found and a photo would be even better. This would allow some sort of idea as to the black rabbit population living on the Moor.

Black Rabbits in Folklore.
As with most folklore beliefs most black things are regarded to be harbingers of doom as the very colour black is often associated with death, evil, and other sinister connotations. Therefore it should be no surprise that the poor little black rabbit has never been the most popular ‘furry’ in the animal kingdom.
1) In Richard Adams’ 1972 novel – ‘Watership Down’ a black rabbit appears and is called Inle-rah or the Black Rabbit of Inle. He was the ghostly spirit servant of the Great Frith. It was his duty to ensure that all rabbits die at their allotted time, a rabbit version if you like of the Grim Reaper.
2) Some folk belief that black rabbits hosts the souls of dead humans and at all costs should be avoided.
3) It has also been said that if you dream of a black rabbit then this is a portent of discovering a ‘great secret’.
4) Should anyone be daft enough to kill a black rabbit then a whole heap of bad luck would soon descend on them. If one was shot on an organised shoot then the rest of the day would result in failure and an empty game bag.
5) A way of ensuring good luck was to shout “white rabbit” on first waking up and “black rabbit” just before going to sleep. A similar practice to attract good fortune for the whole year was to shout “black rabbit” three time just before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve and “white rabbit” three times as soon as the New Year begins.


Sheail, J. 1971. Rabbits and their History. Newton Abbot: David & Charles

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor


  1. I spotted a young black rabbit at Powder Mills about 18 months ago at twilight – running from the area near the cottages and off towards the road. Excellent site Tim – been dipping in and out of it for 10 years, many thanks.

    • Gillian Ramsay

      We have black rabbits on the Shetland Islands so I favour the wild and completely natural theory. Shetlanders don’t eat rabbit, so I doubt they were ever cultivated here, and I can’t see that so many pets have escaped that they are seen on the many separate islands.

    • Penny Hartnell

      I used to live the other side of the ridge from Bellever. I worked at a trekking centre and we always had several black rabbits in the fields. Really not uncommon at all on Dartmoor.

    • I’ve seen two black rabbits near okehampton in two weeks , one by my house ! P

  2. Black rabbit spotted along the granite way by Meldon, earlier this year.

  3. Black Rabbits also in Farndale on North Yorkshire Moors, and definitely unlucky.

  4. Just seen 2 young black rabbits in our paddock. We have lived between Gretna and Lockerbie for 30years and never seen these before. We are inundated with the “normal” rabbits this year and burrows are all around the area. Also we don’t know of anyone nearby that has pet rabbits that may have escaped

    • There is a black rabbit living in the field by our holiday cottage in Lezant, near Launceston. Black all over except for a white tail.

  5. Spotted a jet b,ack wild rabbit among ordinary brown ones near Bridge End Farm not far from Thirlemere, Cumbria in the field today. 17 June 2018. Seemed quite happy and healthy!

  6. David Rustell

    Black rabbit spotted on St Catherine’s Hill in Winchester, Hampshire.

  7. Black rabbit seen twice in the lane between Belstone and Cleeve House.

  8. Three baby black rabbits and two brown seen yesterday and today in field near Rossett, N. Wales. Have seen them in the past but not for a few years.

  9. Tor Hill farm about a week ago. Right after seeing a melanistic fallow doe and her fawn.

  10. Bought some land this year near Newton Abbot, Devon. Have a resident Black Rabbit, not shy, see him/her regularly, same spot, more or less same time. Havent got a pic yet but will try. Am naming the land after him/her. Taking it as a good omen.

  11. In our field in the South hams Devon today we saw a jet black rabbit.

  12. I have seen them on Nattadon Common for the last 10 years.

  13. We spotted a black rabbit tonight near Aston Tirrold in Oxfordshire.

  14. Hi – saw a black rabbit two days ago near East Hill, Okehampton. Have a photo but it won’t post here.
    Good to hear others have seen them – as am so used to the grey ones the black one looked surreal. Interesting the history. Belstone not far away had a warren.

  15. Black rabbit spotted this morning in Rezare, Cornwall at St Agnes in Spring Park.

    • David, Pauline staying in Sampford Courtenay West Devon

      Pauline and I saw a totally black rabbit for the first time in the garden at about 8pm today together with a normal rabbit. No photo I’m afraid. . 12th May 2020

    • I’m staying at spring Park now and have been watching him/her for a couple of days saved em the veg peelings and carrot tops on Xmas day

  16. Claudine Bulpitt

    I’ve got a black rabbit. He’s very friendly and tame, loves being hand-fed carrots and enjoys having his head completely enclosed in our hands for a head massage. He’s called Poppet, for some reason.

  17. Could it be, this is just an idea, that melanistic (black) rabbits are like other animals from high altitude areas? By this I mean black adders and common lizards are more common in highland areas as it allows them to warm up a lot quicker than the normal coloured variety.

  18. We have had colonies of black rabbits living in the western Tyne valley for many years. There were 2 particular colonies that I was aware of one living on the river bank at a place called Warden and another between Warden and Fourstones, clearly well established, living wild, and numbering at least a few dozen each. Sadly they disappeared about 10 years ago, and I thought they had died out, however, I have just seen one this morning (at Warden) hence a google search and finding your website. I hope this information is helpful to anyone else who is interested.

  19. Used to see many black rabbits of various shades of blackness at Hound Tor car park.

  20. In the last purple of days I have spotted the same baby black rabbit amongst the plentiful population of wild rabbits in the field next to our house near Chepstow, Monmouthshire. It’s the first one I have ever seen.

    • Two black baby rabbits in Hillingdon Norfolk yesterday evening, eating alongside the usual brown baby rabbits. Never ever seen a black rabbit in the wild, googled it and it brought me here

  21. We have many black rabbits here in Speen, Buckinghamshire. I would say that this year we have more black than grey. On any day in our garden we can see about a dozen from adults to very small ones. They are very common here.

  22. To my amazement, I saw a black rabbit on the B3362 just West of Milton Abbot yesterday afternoon. I had never seen one in the wild before, looked online and found this forum. I hope to see more of these rabbits.

  23. Saw a black rabbit on the road from Milton Abbot to the A30. Startled me !

  24. Just after getting off the bus at Clearbrook Cross 6 30 this morning and still a bit sleepy a black rabbit went scurrying out from the bracken. Was a strange start to my walk. Didn’t know they existed on the moor.

  25. Black rabbit in the field behind our house. Seen clearly through binoculars but too far away to photograph clearly. Shipton by Beningbrough just north of York.

  26. We had a black rabbit, being chased by a stoat (or weasel) on sheepstor yesterday.

  27. I was pleased to read your article. We have sighted a Black Rabbit near our pump site in Australia. There has also a reported fawn rabbit with Black ears. With Welsh tradition, I have treated the event as a GOOD Omen for 2021 after the problems the World has been subjected during 2020 – there were a few other events I could lump into the sighting.

    Thank you for the record.

  28. Saw one 2 days ago in a field just south of Petrockstow, Torridge, Devon

  29. Black rabbit spotted near Fernworthy today!

  30. Black rabbit on my lawn today – South Scarle, Notts.

    • Black rabbit in Northland NZ toaday .landlords cat killed one and i saw another one later so must be a warren of black rabbits..quite cool but i have never seen a black rabbit before in the wild

  31. Saw a black rabbit today when walking along the cycle track near Bissoe

  32. We have seen a black rabbit on the Stiperstones hills in Shropshire several times recently.
    We wondered if it was an escaped pet but seems to be living with the normal rabbit population quite happily.

  33. Saw a black rabbit in a field in Anglesey just this week

  34. Hello there everyone! I have lots of baby black rabbits here in Haughton by the North Tyne in Northumberland. I see David also has them in Warden which is a stone’s throw from me. I definitely take them as a good omen. They’re beautiful. I’ve lived here now for 8 years or so but this is the first year they’ve popped up!

  35. We have a large warren at the end of our garden that backs on to fields in Dummer, Hampshire. Every morning and evening, a number of black rabbits, some babies as well as adults, appear and play all over that end of the garden. They are a joy to watch!

  36. I was cycling by meldon train station ( Dartmoor) yesterday and saw a black rabbit hop into the hedge.

  37. We sometimes see black rabbits in among the wild rabbit population here in the Tararua region of New Zealand.
    And then there are the Enderby Island rabbits which are blue, with an occasional recessive colour of cream.

  38. I spotted a black rabbit near the racecourse in Brighton earlier this week.

  39. Paula Loughran

    Black Rabbit spotted eating on grass verge Cwmbran way, Cwmbran, South Wales

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