Wild Rabbits in Trouble
Both the pygmy rabbit and the New England cottontail have been in the news recently for diminishing populations in the wild.
Earlier this week, Western Watersheds Project of Hailey, Idaho filed a court challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s denial of endangered species protection to pygmy rabbits. Pygmy rabbits, which are tiny enough to fit into the palm of your hand, have experienced a decrease in population as a result of habitat fragmentation and loss, which was caused by livestock grazing.
A survey conducted by scientists at the University of Rhode Island and the state Department of Environmental Management revealed virtually no sign of the native New England cottontail rabbit in Rhode Island. Last winter, rabbit droppings were collected and DNA tested. The results showed that all the droppings belonged to non-native Eastern cottontails. Eastern cottontails were introduced to the area in the 1930s and have flourished while New England cottontail populations declined. Although attempts have been made to introduce new habitat (young forests, scrub brush), the New England cottontail is close to being placed on the Endangered Species List.
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