There may be no more awe-inspiring rabbit in the world than the Flemish Giant. If one came hopping along, you might at first glance mistake it for a dog. These rabbits weigh 15 pounds on average and can reach a length of 2.5 feet. Males have broader heads than females. Females have a dewlap – a large fold of skin under the chin that they use to warm their young. A well-regarded Flemish Giant, according to breed standards, has a large and nicely shaped head, erect ears, a long and powerful body, an evenly colored coat, and a nicely rounded rump. Flemish Giants have thick, glossy fur that comes in a variety of colors. Seven colors are officially recognized in the United States by the National Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders. These are black, blue, fawn, light gray, steel gray, sandy, and white.
Flemish Giants are a very old breed of domesticated rabbit. Originally raised for meat and fur, the breed already existed in Belgium by the 16th century. The first standards for the breed were written in 1893.
Although a domesticated breed, Flemish Giants still retain certain adaptations of wild rabbits. They have large ears that contribute to excellent hearing, and good eyesight, both of which would help them detect predators.
Introduction to North America
Flemish Giants were first imported into the United States from England and Belgium in the 1890s.
Flemish Giants are still prized for their meat and for their fur, but are also often bred today as companion animals. They are known as the “Gentle Giants” of the rabbit world, and are regarded as wonderful pets. If treated correctly, they are very docile and gentle even with small children. Many people also raise Flemish Giants to show. Because of their size, these rabbits need a fairly large space in which to roam, but they can be litter-boxed trained which means that they can also be allowed to roam freely indoors.
Flemish Giants are a stable and very popular breed today. Throughout their long history, they have not been over-bred or over-harvested.
At The Maryland Zoo
Flemish Giant rabbits are among the most popular and easygoing Animal Ambassadors in the Zoo’s Animal Embassy collection.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Lagomorpha
- Family: Leporidae
- Genera: Oryctolagus
- Species: cuniculus
What is an Animal Ambassador?
The Maryland Zoo refers to its special collection of education program animals as “Animal Ambassadors.” The Zoo currently cares for more than 60 Animal Ambassadors, representing more than 40 species, both native and exotic. These animals are managed separately from the rest of the Zoo’s collection and cannot be seen on exhibit at the Zoo. However, many can be seen up close and personal on a rotating basis at Creature Encounters, the Zoo’s outdoor education center; at camp and school programs at the Zoo; as featured participants in community-based Outreach programs; and at special events on and off Zoo grounds.
Animal Ambassadors spend countless hours working with their human handlers, developing bonds of trust and communication that will allow them to appear in front of audiences large and small. They are not show animals. They behave naturally, focusing audiences’ attention on their natural behaviors and adaptations and giving living, breathing meaning to concepts and topics that students may be studying.
Animal Ambassadors travel all over the state of Maryland and beyond, and many also make local and national media appearances, educating about wildlife while representing the Zoo and its commitments to animal welfare and conservation.
What is The Animal Embassy?
The Animal Embassy at The Maryland Zoo is an off-exhibit area that is not open to the public. It is where the Zoo’s “Animal Ambassadors,” or education program animals, live. The Embassy is home to more than 60 individual animals representing more than 40 different species. It is staffed by its own dedicated group of keepers and volunteers and has both indoor and outdoor living space for the animals.