One would expect to find New England cottontail rabbits all over the region after which they're named. But according to the Portland Press Herald, states like New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine have seen a decline in the species for the past 50 years. To increase the rabbit populations, scientists have been breeding the rabbits in captivity and releasing them into the wild.
"In New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, populations are so low and, in Rhode Island’s case, they can’t even find the New England cottontail on an annual basis," New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's wildlife diversity biologist (and the head of the reintroduction plan) Heidi Holman told the Press Herald.
By 2030, the scientists hope to bring the number of New England cottontails in New Hampshire to 1000, while increasing the rabbit's population in Rhode Island to 500. Since 2013, 140 cottontails have been released, with 36 of them hopping off into New Hampshire and the other 104 to Rhode Island. The state of Maine still needs to grant approval before the rabbits can be released within its borders.
Efforts have also been underway since 2009 to restore 1000 acres of rabbit-approved habitats, which had been previously destroyed to make way for urban development projects. The Providence Zoo reports that the New England cottontail population has doubled since they were reintroduced to Patience Island, and evidence that the plan is working led the government to exclude the species from the endangered list last year. To learn more about the species and the efforts to keep them around, check out newenglandcottontail.org.
[h/t Portland Press Herald]
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