Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Lower Keys Marsh Rabbits Close to Extinction

June 29, 2009 Discovery Channel; NatGeo News Watch

Endangered bunnies named after Playboy founder Hugh Hefner just received a boost. Not from Hefner this time, but from University of Central Florida experts who are working to save the rabbits. Graduate teaching assistant Rosanna Tursi is using population genetics to aid in the conservation of the bunnies, Sylvilagus palustris hefneri, which are Florida Lower Keys marsh rabbits. They were declared endangered in 1990. It's estimated that less than 300 of the rabbits remain today.

Hefneri is the most recently recognized subspecies of the marsh rabbit. It's small with short, dark brown fur and a grayish-white belly. Discovered in 1984, the subspecies was named in honor of Hefner after his organization donated money to support fieldwork on the rabbits.

His namesake bunnies live in an island environment and are dependent on specific grasses and plants for feeding, nesting and shelter. Population growth and development in their area has led to the death of the bunnies at the hands of vehicles or domestic animals. Their natural habitat also is being destroyed.

Tursi believes the ability of a species to adapt to new conditions depends on the variety of genetic information present in natural populations. The more genetic diversity a species has, the greater its rate of survival is. “The loss of genetic diversity can have long-term repercussions by affecting the evolutionary potential of the species,” Tursi said.

She and colleagues from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Big Pine Key, landed a grant to study the bunnies. They're conducting fieldwork this summer in the Everglades and Florida Keys. The USFWS hopes to identify rabbits from the most genetically diverse populations, relocate them and create a new population in a habitat where the bunnies are less likely to be disturbed.

“Nature and conservation of wildlife have always been my passion, and I wanted to use my molecular and genetic knowledge to help endangered species,” Tursi explained. She hopes her work will serve as “a model for future conservation and reintroduction efforts.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are 41 endangered species in Florida. Species become endangered after they experience a significant vulnerability to habitat modification, environmental alteration or human disturbance, which results in the existence of the species becoming threatened unless appropriate protective or management techniques are used. Several projects are in the works at UCF to help nine other threatened animals in the sunshine state.

Okinawa Amami Rabbit Okinawa Japan Virtual Ginza

Amami Rabbit (ENDANGERED)

Classified as endangered, the Amami rabbit is protected as a Japanese 'natural monument'. But this ancient mammalian lineage and the natural forests that it inhabits are not merely unique Japanese legacies, symbolic of the significant biodiversity of the central Ryukyu Islands - they are of global significance.

First described by American scientists WH Furness and HM Miller in 1896, the Amami black rabbit was named and reported as Pentelagus furnessi in 1900 by W Stone. It measures 40-50cm in length, weighs up to 2kg and has a thick, woolly coat that is dark brown or blackish. It is so different from other rabbits and hares of the family Leporidae that it is considered to belong to an early branch off the main rabbit-hare evolutionary tree. Its small ears and eyes have generally been viewed as ancient characteristics, and though placed in its own endemic genus, it has often been lumped for convenience in the same group or subfamily as that other anomalous rabbit, the volcano rabbit Romerolagus diazi of Mexico.

In the genes

Exciting new genetic research has shown that the Ryukyu spiny rat of Amami, Tokuno and Okinawa should be re-assigned to three separate species, as the populations on each of the islands has diverged so much from the others - the population on Okinawa even has twice as many chromosomes as that on Amami. Similar research on the mitochondrial DNA (the energy producing units within cells) of the Amami black rabbit has shed light on its long-disputed evolutionary history, revealing that its lineage has been as independent as any other of the Leporid genera. The Amami rabbit's ancestors diverged early on from the main Leporid branch, between 10 or 20 million years ago, about half as long ago as the pikas and the ancestral rabbits separated. In other words, the Amami rabbit has been isolated for so long from other rabbits and hares, including the volcano rabbit, that they are scarcely kin.

New dangers

The unique mammals of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands have co-evolved with the poisonous habu pit viper, but not with predatory mammals. Rats accompanied human settlers to the islands, and as agriculture has spread, so too have the rats, providing increased food for the habu pit viper, which apparently increased in response. To control the snakes, locals introduced mongooses to the islands about 20 years ago, but it seems they do not bother to eat the snakes, feeding on the spiny rat and Amami rabbits instead. This failed biological control is now threatening the integrity of the natural forest ecosystem, though not as drastically as clear-felling the forests, which has been undertaken at an astonishing rate over the same time frame.

November 2007 The Yomiuri Shimbun

KAGOSHIMA--Eleven dead rabbits of an endangered species designated as a special natural treasure were found Monday scattered at intervals along the shoulder of a woodland road in Amami-Oshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture. Never before have so many bodies of Amami rabbits been found at once, according to the Amami Municipal Board of Education and other sources.

Amami rabbits can only be found on Amami-Oshima and Tokunoshima islands in the Okinawa prefecture and are designated in the Environment Ministry's Red Data Book as a species under threat of extinction.

A person mowing grass Monday morning around the path on the border of Amami and Setouchicho found the bodies interspersed at distances of between 500 meters and one kilometer along a seven-kilometer stretch of the path. Three of the bodies had been reduced to skeletons, according to the board. No bodies were found when the grass was previously cut Friday and most of the rabbits are believed to have died between Friday and Monday.

A center for the conservation of wildlife in Amami under the jurisdiction of the ministry was dissecting the rabbits to find the cause of death.

Dozens of cases of Amami rabbits being hit by cars are reported every year, with some also eaten by feral dogs. But no major external wounds could be seen on the eight bodies yet to decompose. “I think there are too few external wounds for the [rabbits] to have been hit by cars," a board official said. "They may have died from an infectious disease or something."

Amami rabbits grow to about 40 or 50 centimeters in length and are notable for their short ears and legs. About 4,400 were estimated to be living on Amami-Oshima around the early 1990s, but their natural habitat has been disappearing due to forest exploitation and the introduction of alien species, and their numbers are believed to have dropped in recent years.

February 3, 2011 It’s the start of the Year of the Rabbit, the fourth in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac , but is the species hopping out of view?  The Switzerland-based International Union of Conservation of Nature is asking just that. An IUCN report says that several Asian species are under serious siege, as elsewhere, the victims of over- hunting, habitat loss, invasive feral animals and viral diseases. These include the Sumatran striped rabbit, hispid hare, Amami rabbit and the Annamite striped rabbit, only discovered by scientists in 1995.

Declines have been rapid and dramatic. The endangered ili pika has disappeared from half of its previously known locations in northwestern China since it was first described some 30 years ago. Rabbits and their kin "include some of the most endangered species on the planet," says IUCN's Andrew Smith, adding that their decline often has also been catastrophic to their predators like eagles and lynxes.

We are hoping the new year will help turn the spotlight on the species' plight. Join the growing crusade in taking action to protect rabbits, and all non-human species.

Read more on our Nature/Human Impact page

From birds to invertebrates, the populations of many of the continent's greatest treasures are teetering on the brink. Habitat destruction is one of the factors affecting the endangered animals of North America.

“If all the insects were to disappear from the Earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.” Jonas Salk, biologist