Wondrous Wildlife
Prevent “Hare” Loss
By Vern and Lori Gieger

     Even though the terms hares and rabbits are used interchangeably, there are subtle differences. Although they belong to the same family, rabbits and hares are not the same animal. Rabbits and hares are physically different, starting with birth.
     Whether they are a hare or rabbit, they are cute and fuzzy! Hares and rabbits belong to the mammal order Lagomorpha. There are more than 50 species of rabbits, and hares, and, no, they are not rodents. Actually, These gentle, harmless animals are more closely related to horses than they are to rodents.
     Of the many species in the rabbit family, some are in serious trouble as a result of human activities. Of the 15 species found in Mexico, one specie critically endangered (Omiltemi Rabbit is thought by some scientists to be extinct); sadly, the status of at least eight other species is considered to be endangered or threatened.   
     One of these, the volcano rabbit serves as an example of the plight of lagomorphs in many regions of the world. The volcano rabbit is restricted to pine forests with undergrowth of bunch grasses at high altitudes in the regions around Mexico City. The primary habitats are on the sides of volcanoes. Some scientists believe that this species possibly has the most limited geographic range of any Mexican mammal. The volcano rabbit is currently listed as an endangered species, and is protected by Mexican wildlife laws. Human-started fires, agriculture, development, and over grazing by domestic stock have resulted in major habitat loss. Commercial exploitation of the forests and bunch grasses are a further threat to the special habitat required by volcano rabbits. Most of the threats come as no surprise; they are the state of affairs for many if not most of the wild animals in today’s world.
     Wild rabbits are high on the menu of many different species of predators. They have enemies everywhere. Buzzards, owls, and golden eagles attack them from above. They are chased and caught by foxes and wildcats. Babies are dug from their nest burrows by badgers. Even adult rabbits living underground are not safe, family groups of stoats and weasels hunt rabbits in an organized fashion. The average lifespan of a pet rabbit is six to eight years (12 is a record), but wild rabbits are lucky if they make it to their first birthday. And you thought you were having a bad hare day!
     Rabbits are opportunistic and omnivorous their diet includes mostly fungi, plants, roots, tree bark, fruit, snails and worms. Rabbits provide benefits other species as well. (Besides being high on the menu.) Their burrowing loosens soil, helping new plants take root, and unused burrows provide shelter for other animals. Not to mention rabbit droppings make good fertilizer.
     The old age adage “breeds like rabbits” doesn’t hold up here, though, rabbits in general are noted for being prolific. If they don’t have the habitat to support them, they too will die out. So, the next time you see a little cottontail hopping along, wish him well, and be glad you had the opportunity to see him.
     If you encounter a wild animal that needs help, call L.W.R.R. 765-4916