news from the island
Run Rabbit Run

Friday October 19, 2007

Run Rabbit Run

It´s a common sight in the Lanzarote countryside. Every Thursday and Sunday from August 12th through to early November, knots of hunters park up their 4×4´s on dirt tracks and country lanes early in the morning. Then head out into the campo with their distinctive Podenco dogs for a day of hunting.

But what exactly is their quarry? Surely an arid little island like Lanzarote has little to offer in terms of wildlife for the huntin´ and shootin´ set? Best think again then as the rabbit population on Lanzarote keeps breeding like, er rabbits. Providing ample sport for many islanders.

Conejeros - The Rabbit People

Rabbits do in fact occupy a position of great cultural significance in the Canaries - and on Lanzarote in particular. As traditionally rabbit has always been readily available and along with goat has been a staple island dish for many centuries.

So much so in fact that the Canary Islanders are known as Conejeros - a close derivative of the Spanish word for rabbit - conejo. But stray into this linguistic minefield at your peril. As the same word - conejo - is also employed by the islanders' in much the same way as pussy is employed colloquially in English.

Until the advent of tourism Lanzarote was very much a rural island  with the locals heavily dependent upon agriculture. The remnants of this pastoral past are still readily evident when touring the island today. And hunting was an integral part of this lifestyle, often providing one of the few means of subsistence available on an island not otherwise overly blessed with native flora and fauna.

Today, hunting is still extremely popular - so much so that there is even a programme dedicated to this pastime on local Canarian TV. And plenty of islanders keep Podencos - the wiry, angular looking hunting dogs that are used to track down Bugs and the rest of his furry friends.

Ibizan Hounds

These Podencos - also known as the Ibizan Hound - have a clearly visible heritage dating back to Ancient Egypt and are depicted in many works of art and carvings from that period.

The breed was imported by Egyptian traders into the Balearic Islands some 5,000 years ago. And Ibizan Hounds were said to have ridden atop Hannibal’s elephants when he invaded Italy (the fact that his Carthaginian general was actually born on Ibiza gives some credence to the story).

Ibizan Hounds have been known in their present form on the islands of Ibiza and its neighbor, Formentera, eight miles to the south, for more than 5,000 years. Where they were welcomed as admirable hunters of rabbit and other small game.

Like the rabbits that they hunt, dogs in general also have a good deal of cultural significance in the Canary Islands - not least as the Canaries derive their name from the Latin word Canus for dog. Rather than the bird species many of us would more readily associate with the name (which is probably for the best as a holiday in the Isles of Dogs doesn't have quite the same ring to it really).

As well as their canine companions local hunters also use guns to finish off their prey. And the loud report of gunfire echoing around hills and valleys in the countryside is a commonplace sound during the hunting season.

Other less affluent hunters stick with more old fashioned methods and carry a long wooden stick to deliver the final blow. These sticks were also employed in the traditional Canarian martial art of Juego del Palo - which was a common form of self-defence throughout the seven islands.

Each island evolved its own unique fighting system - with the Lanzaroteños creating their very own Estilo Conejero - or Rabbit Style.

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