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Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits will continue to get a little help from Uncle Sam. In a report released today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlined a recovery plan for the endangered species.
In their announcement, the agency stated: "Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits are a unique species and their continued existence may provide yet-undiscovered benefits to the ecosystem. Their loss would diminish the functional quality of the ecosystem and may have effects we cannot yet understand or quantify."
Pygmy rabbits rely on sagebrush to provide food and shelter, and are the only North American rabbit known to dig their own burrows. When the wild population of Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits began to disappear, the state of Washington worked with several groups to start a captive breeding program. These rabbits have been successfully introduced back into the region.
The Oregon Zoo is one of several groups working to bring the tiny bunnies back to their native range. Recently the Wenatchee World reported that recovery efforts look good so far, with a higher than usual number of reintroduced pygmy rabbits successfully wintering over in the wild.
Pygmy rabbits are the smallest rabbits in North America. Adults weigh about one pound and are less than a foot long. The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit has been isolated from other pygmy rabbit populations for at least 10,000 years and is genetically different from them.