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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Endangered pygmy rabbit to get boost at Oregon Zoo

Shannon Dininny Associated Press

YAKIMA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has given the Oregon Zoo in Portland $57,000 to help build a conservation center in hopes of saving the world’s smallest rabbit.

The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in March 2003.

Today, biologists are unsure if any remain in the wild in the five Eastern Washington counties known to be the historical habitat for the species: Douglas, Grant, Lincoln, Adams and Benton counties.

“We’re holding out hope they may still be out there,” said Chris Warren, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist leading the recovery effort.

In the meantime, the grant for the Oregon Zoo would assist with the construction of a conservation center, where biologists could continue to breed the animals in captivity.

The Oregon Zoo and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife removed 20 Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits from the wild, and in 2001, the Oregon Zoo became the first in the country to successfully breed pygmy rabbits in captivity.

“In the past, zoos have spread their conservation efforts all over the world, particularly in tropical areas. While these efforts have been extremely important, there has been a tendency to ignore our own back yards,” zoo Director Tony Vecchio said in a news release.

“At the Oregon Zoo, we feel that efforts in our own region will prove to be the most effective way to engage our visitors and constituents in conservation actions,” he said.

Weighing about a pound and less than a foot long, pygmy rabbits often are confused with juvenile cottontail rabbits. They can be found in about 10 Western states, but the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit has been separated along the Columbia River corridor from those other populations, Warren said.