less than a pound, the pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) is
the smallest North American rabbit species.
Pygmy rabbits may be found in sagebrushed areas of
southern Idaho, Washington, eastern Oregon, northeastern
California, Nevada, and Wyoming.
rabbits are sagebrush obligates, meaning they require sagebrush
habitat to survive. They
are dependent upon sagebrush for food, which comprises 98% of
their winter diet and a good portion of their spring and summer
rabbit numbers have drastically declined in the past decade, even
in protected areas such as the INEEL.
This decline is primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation
through development and agricultural conversion. Pygmy
have been listed by the federal government as a species of
concern and are a candidate for threatened and endangered species
listing. In Idaho
they are listed as a species of concern.
subspecies of pygmy rabbit, the Great
Basin pygmy rabbit, is near extinction. The Great Basin
pygmy rabbit is found only in eastern Washington. Probably
less than 50 rabbits of this subspecies remain. Though
genetically related to our native Idaho species, genetic studies
by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) suggest
that these rabbits have been isolated from Idaho and Oregon
populations for as long as 7,000-10,000 years. Because of this,
translocating rabbits from neighboring states isn't a good option
to boost Washington populations.
To preserve the Washington's last
remaining population of the Great Basin pygmy rabbit, rabbits were
captured from eastern Washington and a captive breeding program
was initiated to raise and release Washington pygmy rabbits into
two protected areas in eastern Washington.
Before scientists launched the
captive breeding effort in Washington, they captured and bred more
common Idaho pygmy rabbits so they could study and perfect rearing
techniques. Under the direction of Dr. Rod Sayler from
Washington State University, this model population of Idaho
pygmy rabbits were reintroduced to the INEEL this fall.
Results from the Idaho reintroductions are intended to help
improve the success of reintroductions for the endangered Columbia
Basin pygmy rabbit, scheduled to begin in the summer of 2003.