Nigerians turn to rabbits for consolation during coronavirus lockdown

LAGOS (Reuters) – Sandra Dozie has a fluffy new friend to keep her company during the long tedious hours of a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus – a four-month old rabbit called Coco.

“My family and I got bored of just being alone at home, so we wanted someone that will be there to play with and mess around with,” said Dozie, 27, as she gently stroked Coco’s white and brown fur.

Dozie, whose employer shut down a week ago due to the pandemic, was speaking on the roof terrace of her home in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital and home to 20 million people, but now the usually bustling, noisy streets below are eerily quiet.

Nigeria has reported 190 confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far, 98 of them in Lagos, where a lockdown has been declared, forcing millions to stay at home.

But the lockdown has had a silver lining for Akinjo Joshua, manager of online store Hopsville Farm, who has seen sales rocket as Nigerians seek comfort and companionship from cute, furry pets.

“People want to stay with something they can reckon with,” Joshua said. “The rabbit being an intelligent animal fits in this space.”

His shop has up to 20 species of rabbit and they sell for 10,000 naira ($28) to 30,000 naira ($83). Though Joshua halted deliveries earlier this week, he made more than 100 sales in the previous month – well above typical sales of up to 20.

However, animal rights group PETA warned prospective rabbit owners that they are complex creatures with special needs and that buying one is not a decision they should take lightly.

“Bringing a rabbit or any other animal into your home should be a commitment for life, not just for lockdown,” said PETA director Elisa Allen.

“PETA hopes Lagos doesn’t see a rise in the number of abandoned bunnies once lockdown is over, as we often see after Easter.”

Rabbits are the third-most abandoned animals, PETA said, as families discover that their fluffy pets have many needs.

Dozie was unfazed as she offered a carrot to Coco and let her hop around her rooftop terrace: “I love her so much.”

($1 = 361.0000 naira)

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