Georgia Foote and Madeline Rabalais, both 9, spent the morning of June 26 learning all about the seventh most popular pet in the United States — the rabbit.

The girls were among 48 participants at Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center’s Swamp Day Camp from June 23-27, part of which was the visit from Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue.

“We made paper rabbits with — what do you call it again?” Foote asked.

“Origami,” said the other girls at her table.

“Yeah, origami, and then we got to pet a lot of rabbits,” Foote said. “They bumped me with their noses,” she said, giggling.

In addition to learning about what it takes to care for a rabbit, said Nature Center Educator Lauren Herbert, the girls helped put together adoption and care packets for new rabbit owners as their camp service project.

Rabbits are the third-most surrendered pet — behind dogs and cats — at shelters and animal control departments in the U.S., said Wendy Lincoln, who runs Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue, a network of foster homes around Baton Rouge specifically dedicated to the long-eared creatures.

That creates an outsized supply of surrendered rabbits compared to demand, Lincoln said, and a never ending need for the services she provides. “We get a lot of calls from people who find rabbits in eating from their gardens,” she said. “When they don’t run away, or when they’re not plain brown rabbits, they’re generally either pets that were turned loose or escaped,” she said.

And rabbits that have grown up in captivity are ill-equipped to survive in the wild, she said.

That’s where Lincoln and her team of volunteers come in.

“We have regular adoption days and classes on rabbit care,” she said. To date, the rescue has adopted out 900 rabbits to permanent homes.

Though rabbits can be trained to use litter boxes and have soft fur, they are much different from cats. “They’re prey animals,” Lincoln said, pointing out the position of their eyes on the sides of their heads. “This is so they can see in all directions to watch for things that can hurt them,” she said.

This also means if you’re holding your hand in front of a rabbit’s nose, as you might in getting to know a dog or a cat, they likely can’t see you. “It’s best to approach them from the side,” Lincoln said.

Their body language and actual language is much different than those of cats or dogs, she said. When rabbits want to interact, they get to know each other by offering the top of their heads, she said, and are protective of their throats, and therefore don’t like being scratched under the chin like a cat.

Rabbits can scream when they are afraid, they honk when food is coming, and they thump with their back legs to warn each other about potential dangers. This is why patting a leg in the way one might call a dog to come could have the exact opposite effect on a rabbit.

If a rabbit is spooked while in a cage, its first instinct is to bolt, and if there’s nowhere to go, it is possible to scare a rabbit to death. This contributes to the rabbit’s reputation for timidity, Lincoln said, but in reality, if handled property, rabbits can be extraordinarily social and interactive, and make great pets with the right owners.

“The average lifespan of a rabbit living indoors is about 10 years, up to 12 years, so it’s a at least a 10 year commitment,” she said.

After learning to “speak rabbit,” the campers got a chance to test out their new language skills with five ambassador rabbits that Lincoln and her volunteers brought with them.

“They were really soft,” Rabalaid said.

For information on Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue, visit the organization’s website, www.magichappensrescue.com.

Click here to watch a video of the rabbits.