I’m rather fond of rabbits. Not in a daily cabinet dusting of rabbit knick-knack way. Truth being, the only rabbit representation in my home is a watercolour painted by my mother decades ago. That said, rabbits are my animal, rabbit appears in my email address and a close friend calls me Ms. Rabbit. The eve of Easter weekend strikes me as an appropriate time to ponder Swamp Rabbits, in particular, the Jimmy Carter rabbit incident of 1979.
Swamp Rabbits, largest member of the cottontail genus weigh 3-6 pounds with overall length of 16-22 inches. Found along the Gulf Coast and south-central region of the United States, true to their moniker they favour swampy lowlands, floodplains and riverbanks. Peculiar to this cottontail is a waterproof fur coat and remarkable ability to swim. When threatened they take to water, eluding predators by diving under roots or hunkering down beneath overhangs.
On April 20, 1979 President Jimmy Carter was fishing alone near his home in Plains, Georgia. Carter said a rabbit being chased by hounds “jumped in the water and swam toward my boat. When he got almost there, I splashed some water with a paddle”. Despite this photograph taken by Carter’s onshore detail, White House staffers didn’t believe him, “rabbits can’t swim”. Ten days later AP correspondent Brooks Jackson’s account appeared in numerous publications, including front page of the Washington Post titled “Bunny Goes Bugs: Rabbit Attacks President”. A cartoon parody of Jaws, titled Paws appeared in the Post. All without the photo above which wasn’t made public until mid 80’s by the Reagan administration.
Image from the Carter Library
A 1986 book by Jody Powell titled The Other Side of the Story included this account –
“Upon closer inspection, the animal turned out to be a rabbit. Not one of your cutesy, Easter-bunny-type rabbits, but one of those big splay-footed things that we called swamp rabbits when I was growing up.
The animal was clearly in distress, or perhaps berserk. The President confessed to having had limited experience with enraged rabbits. He was unable to reach a definite conclusion about its state of mind. What was obvious, however, was that this large, wet animal, making strange hissing noises and gnashing its teeth, was intent upon climbing into the Presidential boat”. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Carter_rabbit_incident