Rabbits disappearing from Central Park

New York (AP) — If anyone knows why the bunnies have disappeared
from Central Park, wildlife officials are all ears.

Though abandoned pet rabbits perennially turn up after each
Easter in what’s affectionately called New York’s backyard, a wild
cottontail hasn’t been spotted in the park for about four
years.

“I’ve been here for 17 years, and there were not many when I got
here,” Regina Alvarez, director of horticulture for the Central
Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that manages the huge Manhattan park
for the city, said in an e-mail. “But I would see them once in a
while.”

No other New York park has seen a decline in wild rabbits, said
Sarah Aucoin, director of Urban Park Rangers for the New York City
Department of Parks & Recreation.

Cottontails seek habitats with lots of food sources and thick
brush for protection, so it’s possible there are still some hiding
out. No one introduced the rabbits, which have been living there
since well before the park was established 161 years ago.

Because bunnies “mate like rabbits,” if there are still a few,
“we’ll see an increase, definitely,” Aucoin said. “Only time will
tell.”

The bunnies are especially vulnerable to weather, predators and
automobiles – all features of the park, said Alan Hicks, a state
wildlife biologist.

A recent storm took out large trees throughout the park, and
several city streets cut through it. Hawks and falcons are a common
sight there, and a random coyote is not out of the question. One
was spotted in the park in 2006.

But Aucoin said she didn’t think an increase in predators was to
blame, because they generally don’t decimate their own food source,
she said.

“That’s not smart, evolutionarily speaking,” she said. “That
predator population would die off if they didn’t have anything to
eat.”

So since no one has the answer, officials are doing what they
can to encourage repopulation. The city has been working to remove
invasive plants and planting others to make the park more livable
for small animals, including rabbits, Aucoin said.

“When people see a wild animal, even if it’s just a bunny, it
helps people connect to the environment in a more tangible way,”
she said. “That’s a really important relationship we’re trying to
encourage here in the city.”

But if you’re dying to see a bunny in the park, visit on
Monday.

Some people give them to their children as pets, discover they
require feeding and cleaning, and set them free in the park, Aucoin
said. When that happens, park rangers rescue the domesticated
bunnies and take them to a shelter.

“It’s a horrific problem,” said Mary Cotter, who teaches
veterinary technology at LaGuardia Community College in Queens and
has founded a rabbit rescue group in the city.

Categories: New York – Steve Piatt

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