Officials help reintroduce tiny rabbits into the world

pygmy rabbit in hand photo
Photo: Oregon Zoo

With loads of wire mesh, steel sheets, and drainage piping, workers toil in the arid landscape of central Washington in an effort to give the world's smallest rabbit a fighting chance there -- sure, it's adorable work, but somebody's got to do it. Pygmy rabbits, an endangered species in the state, have had a lot to contend with over the years, from the loss of their habitat, to being an easy meal for just about every natural predator around, but officials are hoping specially-built enclosures will keep them safe until they're strong enough to survive once again in the wild.Agents from Washington's Fish and Wildlife are hoping to set the stage for the once-plentiful Pygmy rabbits to make a comeback in the region after decades of habitat fragmentation caused their population to plummet. Workers are building specially designed enclosures to keep around 100 month-old bunnies protected from predators as they mature and multiply.

The tiny animals are one of only two species of burrowing rabbits found in North America, but their small stature makes them an easy target for a whole host of predators, like owls and coyotes.

Photo: Oregon Zoo

According to a report from Oregon Public Broadcasting, this isn't the first time such an undertaken has been attempted to help the pygmy rabbits bounce back, so to speak. A few years ago, about 20 bunnies were released into the wild, but they failed to build a population large enough to counter their many threats.

"That's why rabbits breed like rabbits. They pump out a lot of young so when a lot of them get eaten there are some left over to breed in the next year," researcher Penny Becker told OPB. "But when you start off with such a small number, it's difficult to get over that hump to have enough to breed over the next year."

With that in mind, Beckler and the team of conservation officials are anticipating their bunnies will get over the hump -- pretty much by doing just that. If the ecosystem is repopulated with pygmy rabbits, officials hope, a greater sense of balance will be restored.

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