Endangered pygmy rabbits finally breed like ... bunnies

Jul 25, 2011

Biologists say the endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is breeding for the first time in a decade in its native habitat.

Wildlife managers are re-introducing the tiny rabbit on a wildlife reserve near Ephrata in Central Washington. They've confirmed several litters in a six-acre enclosure there.

Michael Illig of the Oregon Zoo bred some of the parents that were recently released into the wild. He says baby pygmy rabbits – or kits – have a lot working against them. They're at the bottom of the food chain. And mother pygmy rabbits are not known for their attentiveness.

"They give birth in a burrow and then they backfill that burrow. So they don't spend any real time with the kits," Illig explains. "Once a day, usually in the evening, they'll go and uncover that burrow and pull the kits out through the entrance, nurse them, push them back down, and seal it up, and then they go off to different burrows."

Until the re-introduction this spring, there were no Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits known to be left in the wild. A previous re-introduction effort failed after the rabbits fell prey to predators.

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