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[SANET-MG] Columbia Pygmy rabbits and pharm crops
Human insulin and carp growth hormone genes are being used to modify
safflower and huge tests plots are being allowed in the area where
endangered Columbia pygmy rabbits range. These endangered rabbits seem
to have been ignored or written off by Washington State and USDA
bureaucrats who allowed , if not encouraged , the tests. The article
below deals with the efort to preserve the bunnies , but their
endangered lives will not be betered by the pharm crops in their midst.
Seattle Times March 13, 2007
Captive breeding offers hope for near-extinct pygmy rabbits
By John K. Wiley
The Associated Press
EPHRATA — Wildlife officials today released 20 Columbia Basin pygmy
rabbits that were raised in captivity to a sagebrush-covered area of
central Washington state where their ancestors roamed before teetering
on the edge of extinction.
The pygmy rabbits were born and raised at Washington State University
and the Portland Zoo in Oregon and are descendants of the last known
wild rabbits caught in 2002 for a captive breeding program intended to
restore the endangered species.
The effort is similar to the breeding programs that brought back the
California condor, said Ren Lohoefener, Pacific regional director of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Ore.
"Any time you can bring something back from zero and re-establish it,
it's cause to celebrate," he said. "This may be harder to do than with
condors, because a lot more things eat bunnies than condors. If it works
here, maybe it can work in other areas."
The rabbits were released in the Sagebrush Flats area about 18 miles
northwest of Ephrata, part of a five-county range that was the original
habitat of the tiny sagebrush-eating rabbits. They are the only species
of rabbits in the United States to dig their own burrows.
Pygmy rabbits are still found in the West's Great Basin, but the
isolated Columbia Basin group is considered to be evolutionary distinct
population, said Rod Sayler, a Washington State University associate
professor of natural resource sciences who leads the captive breeding
The Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Tacoma also participates in the
captive breeding program, which has produced about 90 pygmy rabbits,
including the 20 released Tuesday.
None of the purebred Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits are believed to remain
in the wild, said Tom Buckley of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Only three purebred descendants of the original wild rabbits remain at
the captive breeding sites, Sayler said.
Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits were mated with more genetically diverse
Idaho pygmy rabbits and their offspring have at least 75 percent of the
Columbia pygmy bloodlines, said Lisa Shipley, Sayler's colleague at WSU.
An immediate result was that the crossbred rabbits became better
breeders and more of their young survived, Sayler said.
"We found out they were suffering from severe inbreeding depression,"
Sayler said. "No matter what we did, they just weren't reproducing well.
Believe me, we tried everything."
"What that did was, it added in some genetic diversity. That population
had been isolated for thousands of years," he said. "We added just
enough to help them along and reproduction picked back up."
The reason the Columbia Basin rabbits declined is not known, although
scientists suspect inbreeding among such a small population was a major
factor. Range fires, farming, disease and predators also are thought to
have taken their toll, said Madonna Luers of the Washington Department
of Fish and Wildlife, which is cooperating with its federal counterparts
in the program.
The tiny rabbits — not much bigger than a man's hand — were released
into a barren sagebrush landscape.
The dozen males and eight females were placed in artificial burrows made
of 20-foot-long perforated plastic irrigation pipes until they get used
to the place and dig their own. Each wore a tiny radio transmitter the
size of a watch battery to help scientists track its movements.
The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit — scientific name Brachylagus idahoensis
— is the country's smallest native rabbit. It was listed as an
endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2003.
Surveys in 2004 found none left in traditional areas.
The rabbits were released on public lands that are part of about 10,000
acres the state fish and wildlife and natural resources departments have
set aside for the rabbits.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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