City Desk

D.C. Needs You to Help It Track Bunnies!

cottontail

Bunnies may be known for their multiplying prowess, but in the District, they're not performing so well. The Eastern Cottontail rabbit—the only type of rabbit in the District—has frighteningly low population numbers, and now, the city wants residents' help in tracking how many of the creatures are actually living here.

The District Department of the Environment sent out a letter to residents Wednesday that has been posted on some neighborhood email lists calling on them to be "Citizen Scientists" and submit their sighting of these rabbits to the city's biologists.

Lindsay Rohrbaugh, a biologist with the department's Fisheries and Wildlife Division, says 20 people have already emailed her inquiring about participating, and a handful have already submitting rabbit sightings. All the sightings so far seem to be in parts of Northwest near Rock Creek Park.

The Eastern Cottontail was listed in the department's Wildlife Action Plan as a species with great conservation need. Since then, the department has been tracking the rabbits to try and determine their actual numbers. The 2013 survey, which tracked rabbit sightings from May to September, only tallied 20 rabbits, which translates to a population density of less than .1 rabbit per square mile.

"They have a high reproduction rate but they also have a high mortality rate, so their numbers fluctuate a lot," Rohrbaugh says.

But despite the findings, she says she hears of residents spotting the rabbits (and a recent Washington Post column suggests the rabbit population is "exploding"). The biologists typically only search for the rabbits during the dusk and dawn and in parks. The "Citizen Scientist" program will allow them to see if these rabbits are hanging out in people's backyards or unexpected areas.  The citizen findings will be included in the 2014 survey of the Eastern Cottontail population.

Happy rabbit hunting, er, spotting!

Read the letter below for information on participating:

Photo by Ryan Hodnett via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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