Thursday, October 6, 2011

On the Wild Side: Pygmy Rabbits vs Cattle

According to the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Washington State, a rabbit is embroiled in a "range war" of sorts.  Pygmy Rabbits, (pictured on the right) are at the center of a lawsuit filed by an environmental group over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision that these tiny native rabbits do not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. "The Western Watersheds Project, based in Hailey, Idaho, said the rabbits were first identified as possibly in need of protection in 2003, and their numbers have diminished since. They contend the rabbits are suffering from loss of habitat caused in large part by livestock grazing." 
It's easy to see why they need protection.  The rabbits weigh in at about one pound. Every predator in their natural habitat will take them as a snack. Their lifespan is short (3 years) like any wild rabbit subject to predation. The rabbit's own food source (99% sagebrush) is being replaced with an "agriculture lawn" of grass forage for those large, docile, non-native ruminants - cattle.  Pgymy Rabbits are not prolific breeders like most rabbits and offspring mortality is as high as 50% up to 5 weeks old. Their populations do not recover well from habitat destruction. Finally, it is well established that a loss of any species always has ecological ramifications. I think it is tragic the Pgymy rabbit could disappear forever because their home range is being trampled by some mild mannered bovines who will only end up as steakhouse dinners themselves. (Photo credit: AP)