Information from Pacific Biodiversity Institute’s Endangered Species Information Network


Name: Pygmy Rabbit                                   (photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)                       

   (Brachylagus idahoensis)

Status: State Endangered (WA), State Species of Concern (ID), Federal Endangered Species

Description: Typically colored brown/slate gray with short, white-margined, ears and a small tail

Threats: Habitat loss, predation, introduced diseases, depressed population size

 Note:  The subspecies of pygmy rabbit found in Washington State is near extinction.  While a few rabbits remain in the wild, most of the remaining population has been placed in two captive breeding programs.  Probably less than 50 rabbits of this subspecies remain.


The smallest rabbit species in North America, the pygmy rabbit measures 9.2-11.6 inches (23.5-29.5 cm) in length, weighs a slight 0.88-1.02 lbs (398-462 g), and is able to fit in the palm of a hand. Unlike other rabbit species, the pygmy rabbit digs its own burrows in deep, loose soil. They are dependent upon sagebrush for food, comprising 98% of their winter diet and a good portion of their spring and summer diet. Mortality, chiefly from predation, is high for both juveniles (an estimated 50% don’t survive the first five weeks) and also the species in general, which has a mortality rate of up to 88% per year. Predators include weasels, coyote, badgers, bobcats, raptors, and humans, as many hunters can’t distinguish them from other rabbit species. It is suggested that areas of tall sagebrush, a specialized habitat requirement, can be promoted by disturbances such as ungulate grazing and perhaps even by the burrowing and feeding activities of the rabbits themselves. Relatedly, more research needs to be conducted on how cattle grazing affects key habitat for the pygmy rabbit. Though the historical population and range of the pygmy rabbit is unclear, evidence suggests it was significantly larger than at present. This decline is primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation through development, agricultural conversion, and sagebrush burning to promote grasses for livestock forage. The current population total is similarly unclear, as some states (such as Washington) have active surveying programs while others have virtually none. In severe danger of extinction, the Washington population has declined from an estimated 250 rabbits in 1995 to a current estimate of zero. Several small populations known to exist six years ago are now extirpated due to wildfire and disease. Recently the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has initiated a captive-breeding program with hopes of revitalizing the population. There are 6 rabbits currently in captivity and they are hoping to find a total of 20 for the program. Originally planning on crossbreeding with Idaho pygmies, the idea was scrapped in favor of preserving the Washington sub-species when it was found the two are genetically different. Strategies to enhance pygmy rabbit habitat and population numbers outlined in the Washington State 1995 recovery plan are many and include: monitoring, determining population trends through burrow surveys, developing techniques for estimating numbers, researching the effects of grazing, protecting the population through fire management, keeping track of relative abundance of predators, enhancing existing habitat, and creating new suitable habitat and habitat corridors. For more detailed information on pygmy rabbits see the WDFW’s recovery plan @ or the University of Michigan’s animal diversity web @$narrative.html.

                                                                                              Click on the map below to see more detail.

Pygmy rabbit populations are patchily distributed within the Great Basin (sections of the states of WA, OR, ID, CA, NV, UT, MT, and WY) in areas dominated by tall, dense sagebrush clumps and loose, deep soil. Separated for thousands of years, the pygmy rabbit’s Washington range is disjunct from the core range and is thought to be a sub-species. The map at right indicates that the range of sighting in Washington state was much broader in the late 1970’s than the late 1990’s.


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