Pygmy rabbits are on the bunny trail towards recovery in the Columbia Basin of central Washington. The species is endangered, and a restoration project has been going on in Douglas County. Researchers now say it seems that an exceptionally high number of them are likely to survive the winter. Here are highlights of a report by Michelle McNiel of the Wenatchee World.
Winter surveys over the past few weeks have revealed a survival rate far greater than that of healthier pygmy-rabbit populations in surrounding states.
“We’re looking at almost 40 percent of our rabbits surviving,” said Penny Becker, a research scientist who is overseeing the rabbit-recovery effort for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“This is a species that has a low survival rate anyway. It’s a big challenge to get a lot to survive.”
Becker and her survey crew have counted 90 active rabbit burrows in and around the Sage Brush Flat Wildlife Area, outside of the enclosures where a breeding program began in the summer of 2011. She said she believes that about 40 rabbits are using the burrows.
Surveys of the rabbits last winter counted only four rabbits outside of the enclosures.
The state agency is trying to re-establish pygmy rabbits in their historical range in Douglas and Grant counties, starting in an area about 15 miles north of Ephrata.
The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits — an isolated population that is considered distinct from other pygmy rabbits around the West — has been listed as federally endangered since 2003.
All the known rabbits in the wild were captured for a captive breeding program that failed to produce enough rabbits to release back into the wild. So the recovery effort shifted, and pygmy rabbits from other states were brought in to bolster the local population.
To read the complete story in the Seattle Times, please visit http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020054212_tinybunnies04.html
Significantly different from cottontails and hares, The pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) is not only the smallest rabbit species in North America, it is also the only one that digs burrows. Their diet is comprised mainly of sagebrush.