A Summer in the Islands

By Matthew Fort

A carefree exploration of the culture and cuisines of the Italian islands

Monday, 13 March 2017

The fabled cave rabbit; Ischia; July 2014

Silvia d’Ambra, Riccardo d’Ambra’s daughter, and I crouch above a pit about 2 metres deep, which is topped by a wire fence.  Silvia is even more dedicated to the cause of Ischian food than her father, if that’s possible. A hole — the cave — in the hillside opens into it. Actually, the cave is less of a cave than a hillside burrow, in part man-made and in part rabbit-made. Silvia throws a branch with plenty of green leaves into the pit. We wait.  Nothing happen. Silvia explains that rabbit management isn't as straightforward as it might seem. Hazards include high infant mortality, inbreeding, disease, diet and the habit of rabbits to try and escape. Keeping cave rabbits is hard work, she says. Small wonder the  practice has all but died out. 


I’m beginning to doubt that the rabbits will be tempted by this ad hoc addition to their diet, or, indeed, that they actually exist at all, when there’s a slight scuffling at the mouth of the cave, a flicker of movement, and there it is, a real, live cave rabbit, larger than I had expected, with a fine pair of ears and a rich, velvety black fur. Presently out comes a second, equally large with a rather fine stippled brown coat.


I have a faint sense of disappointment.  As with the white asses of Asinara, the notion of a cave rabbit suggests something legendary, rare, exotic, mysterious, but in the end, the cave rabbit is just a rabbit, a handsome rabbit, and no doubt a tasty rabbit, but a rabbit nonetheless. And what is a cave but a burrow spelt differently? In theory, I can understand the importance of the project for the d’Ambra family, but, in truth, it doesn’t speak to me in the way that seeing a British lop pig or a Huntingdon fidget pie would.


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