The smallest rabbit in North America, the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit has been on the brink of extinction since 2004. Other types of pygmy rabbits are not at all endangered and thrive in some western states. The adults weigh barely a pound and can fit inside a human hand, measuring less than a foot in length. In 2007, an attempt to reintroduce the species into its natural habitat ended badly and all of the rabbits were prime lunchmeat fare for a host of predators.
This last ditch effort to save these tiny creatures will involve releasing some 100 pygmy rabbits into large wire enclosures. It is a true test of survival as all of these rabbits were raised in captivity and they will have to adapt to a habitat in which they must find food, breed and avoid being eaten (hopefully, in that order). Wildlife experts believe that the wire enclosures give them a much-needed edge.
The enclosure covers six acres of land and is protected by a 6-foot-tall wire fence, which will deter coyotes, badgers, weasels, snakes and birds of prey. The bottom of the fence has an electrified wire, which prevents entry from digging underneath and the posts are topped with spikes, which prevents birds of prey from perching on the fence’s top. Sagebrush abounds for food and there are many burrows in the enclosure where the rabbits can hide and breed.
There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding this effort that concerns the preservation of the specie’s genetics. Inbreeding made that impossible and these creatures are the result of crossbreeding with other pygmy rabbits from Idaho and Oregon. These rabbits bred in captivity have to learn to fear predators and so far, so good.
Rabbits may not have nine lives as they say about cats, but the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit is at least getting one more chance to thrive and leave its adorable mark on the world.