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Monday, April 17, 2023

Save the bunnies!

Restoring Our Native Cottontail

By Beth Comery for the Providence Daily Dose

The rare New England cottontail, a species of native rabbit* once abundant in these parts, is getting some much needed help from the NE Cottontail Captive Breeding Program

Since 2010, captive breeding specialists at Roger Williams Park Zoo have been working to perfect housing, feeding, and breeding techniques so that threatened New England cottontails can be bred in captivity for eventual release.

As of October 2015, conservationists had released 118 captive-bred New England cottontails, 71 of them in Rhode Island and 47 in New Hampshire. One important release site is Patience Island, a brushy, 210-acre uninhabited island in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. As this island population grows and thrives, it will become a key source for restocking other areas throughout the species’ range.

Heidi brings the new cottontails to an acclimation pen;
it is electrified, hence the ‘Acme Fence Co.’ sign.
PBS has been airing “Remarkable Rabbits” from its Nature series. It features Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, coordinating with Heidi Holman, of New Hampshire Fish and Game. She is shown picking up some young cottontails from the zoo for release into the wild.

I can not recommend this show enough! (Streaming expires on May 3.) In addition to the amazing footage of hares and rabbits in the wild (their kooky mating ritual is called “cavorting”) the show also goes to the American Rabbit Breeders Association convention with its 5o recognized breeds. The 100th ARBA Convention takes place in Kentucky in October. I want to go.

*The New England cottontail is not the same species as the now-common Eastern cottontail. From the RWP Zoo cottontail page:

In the 1930s, the non-native Eastern cottontail was introduced from Missouri primarily to benefit hunters when the native cottontail populations began to decline. While the non-native Eastern cottontail population is widespread and abundant, the native New England cottontail has declined perilously since that time.

Biologists at URI estimate that Patience Island now supports a population of 60 to 170 breeding New England cottontails.

(The ProJo first wrote about the program in 2014.)