CT native rabbits squeezed by habitat loss need help to live

You know what they say about rabbits and breeding, but Connecticut’s only native rabbit species needs help due to widespread habitat loss and possible competition from imported cousins.

The New England cottontail, which is similar to but distinct from the more common eastern cottontail, has been reduced to less than a fifth of its historic range. Wildlife biologists estimate there are only about 13,000 left in New England and New York state east of the Hudson River.

To help with the ongoing research and conservation of native cottontail rabbits, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is hiring seasonal workers. job duties It will include the capture of live rabbits, the collection of biological data and the transport of animals to a captive breeding facility.

The New England Cottontail once roamed a wide area of ​​the state and region. The more common eastern cottontail rabbit was introduced to the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and has been expanding its range ever since.

Eastern cottontails tend to use open fields, meadows, patios, and other grassy areas, while the New England species require large patches of thicket or young woods. Yet throughout the state and region, much of that dense, tangled habitat continues to age into mature forest, while commercial and residential development make other areas unsuitable for Newfoundland cottontails. England.

In 2006, the US Fish and Wildlife Service designated the New England cottontail as a candidate for threatened or endangered status due to severe population declines and widespread habitat loss since the 1960s. DEEP has conducted research on New England and Eastern cottontails since 2000. Studies have focused on the distribution of each species, survival and causes of mortality, range and potential competition between species. DEEP’s Wildlife Division has also assisted with a captive breeding program for New England white-tailed rabbits.

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In the broader region, state and federal biologists in 2009 began a coordinated conservation effort to reverse the decline in New England cottontail numbers and habitat throughout New England and parts of New York. Connecticut has been involved in all facets of the New England Regional Rabbit Initiative. Habitat has been improved on approximately 700 acres of public land and 600 acres of private land in patches ranging from six to 100 acres. These projects benefit not only the New England cottontail, according to DEEP, but also 47 other high-priority species that depend on young forest habitat.

The New England Cottontail weighs between 1.6 and 2.9 pounds, is 14.2 to 18.8 inches long, and is slightly smaller, on average, than the Eastern Cottontail. The two species are not known to interbreed in the wild. The species are almost identical in appearance, except for a slight variation in color. Also, about half of the population of Eastern Cottontails display a white star shape on their foreheads, while New England Cottontails lack this feature.

Cottontail rabbits typically have 2 to 4 litters per year with around 3 to 8 pups per litter. The young are born blind, naked, and helpless, but grow rapidly and leave the nest after only 2-3 weeks. On average, 15% of young rabbits survive their first year. Adults are usually solitary, except when a female is caring for her young.

Seasonal cottontail research posts are based at DEEP’s Franklin Swamp Wildlife Management Area office in North Franklin. Pay for the six-month gig, which begins in November, is $14-$17 an hour, depending on education and experience, without benefits or housing, according to the agency.

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