Lionhead rabbit is one of the newer breeds of domestic rabbits in the United States, and has recently passed the American Rabbit Breeders' Association presentation process and has been accepted as an ARBA recognized breed in the varieties of Tortoise and Ruby Eyed White. As of February 1st, 2014 they will be able to show for Best in Show and receive legs of Grand Champion like any other of the accepted breeds. The Lionhead rabbit has a wool mane encircling the head, reminiscent of a male lion, hence the name. Other characteristic traits of the Lionhead include a high head mount, compact upright body type, short well-furred 2" - 3" ears, and weigh usually between 2 1/2 pounds but no more than 3 3/4 pounds.
The Lionhead rabbit originated in Belgium. It is reported to have been produced by breeders trying to breed a long coated dwarf rabbit by crossing a miniature Swiss Fox and a Netherland dwarf. This resulted in a genetic mutation causing wool to appear around the head and on the flanks. This gene has come to be known as the "mane" gene. There are many other reports similar to this, for example that the lionhead has been bred from a Netherland Dwarf and a Jersey Wooly, but none have been substantiated, since the mane gene is separate from the gene that creates wool coats in wooled rabbits. The Lionhead rabbit continued to gain popularity in Europe, and Lionheads found their way to the United States in the late 1990s.
The Lionhead rabbit has a small, compact body, and the head is bold, yet not quite round from all sides, with well-developed muzzle. Their legs are of medium length and they are of medium bone. Their ears are not to exceed 3 inches long. Their mane is at to be at least 2 inches long and is to form a full circle around the head, extending to a 'V' at the back of the neck. It may fall into a fringe between the ears, creating a "wool cap". Lionheads have a normal rollback coat of medium length over the saddle, and some have "transitional wool" on their flanks. Some Lionheads have noticeably longer wool on the cheeks and chest. Lionhead rabbits have outgoing personalities and are a popular pet in the United States.
In the United Kingdom, the British Rabbit Council has recognized the Lionhead breed since 2002. In the United States, the breed is in "Certificate of Development" status with the American Rabbit Breeders' Association (ARBA). The COD process involves presenting the breed to the ARBA Standards committee at the organization's annual convention and show. This process requires that there be three successful presentations within five years in order for the breed to become recognized, and included in the ARBA Standard of Perfection.
The current breed COD presenter is Theresa Mueller of Seattle, Washington. She made her first successful presentation at the 2010 ARBA Convention in Minneapolis, MN in November, 2010 in the varieties of REW, Black Tortoiseshell and Black. In November 2011, at the 88th ARBA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Mueller Lionhead presentation was assessed one fail in each variety (REW, Black Tortoiseshell and Black) due to disqualification of one junior animal in each variety having transitional wool on the flanks that exceeded the allowable maximum length. The ARBA Standards Committee then allowed Mueller to make a few changes to her proposed working breed standard, and also allowed the grouping all four varieties of Tortoiseshell (black, blue, chocolate and lilac)for her 2012 presentation.
In October 2012, at the ARBA Convention in Wichita, Kansas, the Ruby-Eyed White (REW) and Black Tortoiseshell passed their next attempt at second presentation, therefore both varieties need one more successful presentation at the ARBA Convention in October 2013 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for the breed to become recognized. The black variety did not pass, which ended Mueller's presentation process for that variety. For the 2013 presentation, Mueller will be on her first attempt at a successful third presentation of both REW and Tortoise. At that time, if only one of the varieties pass presentation, it will be the only accepted variety in the breed. However, Mueller would have an opportunity to present the other variety one more time to try to get it to pass into acceptance. If both varieties make a successful third presentation at the 2013 ARBA Convention, then the breed would be recognized by ARBA in both REW and Tortoise.
In October 2013 Theresa and Cheryl attempted their first try at 3rd presentation, their final presentation. The lionheads passed the evaluation by the standards committee in the colors of Ruby Eyed White and Tortoise. Those color will are the only recognized colors, for now. Beginning with the 2014 ARBA convention in Ft.Worth, Texas other colors will begin the presentation process and attempt to also become accepted, showable colors.
Arden Wetzel(MN) was the first Lionhead COD holder, whose presentation of the Black Tortoiseshell Lionhead failed after several attempts. Presentation rights then passed to Gail Gibbons(KS), who failed in her presentation attempts and whose COD was revoked by ARBA after her presentation attempt at the 2009 ARBA Convention in CA. ARBA then passed presentation rights to the current presenter, Theresa Mueller. Former COD Holders also include Bob Whitman(TX) and Kim Croak (PA). They are both deceased, who held Lionhead breed CODs during their lifetime, Dawn Guth(OH), Anita Moore(MI), Lynne Schultz(NE) and Regina Mayhugh(OH) who held Lionhead CODs, but dropped them before becoming eligible to present. If the breed attains recognized status within the ARBA, those with active CODs on file with ARBA will be eligible to present their varieties to the Standards Committee for consideration through the presentation process.
The North American Lionhead Rabbit Club (NALRC) holds its annual Lionhead Exhibition Specialty show in Columbus, Ohio on the first Saturday in May of each year. Typically, the Lionhead breed is represented by approximately 300-500 entries and 50-80 exhibitors from all over the United States and Canada.
Typically, the mane is thick, woolly and soft with evident "crimping". Depending on the pair of genes a Lionhead gets (one from each parent), it can have a double mane (two mane genes) or a single mane (one mane gene). A lionhead rabbit can have a maximum of two mane genes. The only way to tell if a rabbit is single mane or double mane is when they are first born, past that many things contribute to how much mane they actually end up having including chewing on the mane by themselves or others and matts.
Single mane lionhead rabbits only have one copy of the gene responsible for creating a mane on a rabbit, called the mane gene. Single mane Lionheads typically do not hold a mane for their entire lifetime. They have a mane that can be around its head, ears, chin and sometimes on the chest and rump. The mane may be wispy and thin and may disappear on some rabbits altogether as they mature. The genotype for the single mane is Mm. Typically their mane wool diminishes as they get older. Single maned Lionheads are usually the product of a Purebred Double mane Lionhead being bred to a rabbit of another breed (process called hybridization) in order to strengthen a particular characteristic or introduce a particular color into the Lionhead breeding program. Kits born from single manes or hybridization with double manes that do not have manes are called "no maned" because they did not get a copy of the mane gene. Without a mane gene, a rabbit will not have a mane nor will they be able to produce a kit with a mane, unless bred to a rabbit with either a single or double mane.
Double maned Lionheads have two copies of the mane gene. They typically have a thick mane of wool encircling the head and sometimes have wool on their flanks that some refer to as a "skirt". The genotype for a double maned Lionhead is MM. A double maned lionhead is the product of either two single maned Lionheads (will have single manes in the litter) or two double maned lionheads. Two double maned Lionheads will only be able to produce double maned Lionheads when bred together.
In most cases the Lionhead is a friendly and well mannered pet. It is possible to train a Lionhead as they are very smart creatures. They can comprehend certain orders like come, play, and eat.
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