EPHRATA, Wash. – The last Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits produced in a captive breeding program have been released to six-acre enclosures of grass and sagebrush in central Washington.
“It’s a bittersweet thing for me, but it’s a feeling of success,” said Leanne Klinski, who oversaw the Oregon Zoo’s breeding program for the past four years. “To see them come out and contribute to the wild is the best ending you could have – and to be a part of the recovery of this very delicate species just makes my heart melt.”
Biologists and volunteers from the Oregon Zoo and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released 11 adult rabbits and five kits, each about 20 days old, Monday near Ephrata.
The pygmy rabbit is America’s smallest native rabbit, weighing less than one pound when fully grown. The endangered Columbia Basin species is genetically distinct but its numbers declined as its habitat was converted to farmland.
Washington State University, the zoo and Northwest Trek have been working on a captive breeding program to help restore the endangered rabbits to their original range. WSU and Northwest Trek released the last of their rabbits last year.