Thanks to the Trustees of Reservations, a rabbit species in distress finds a hospitable home on the Mashpee River Reservation.
For a better understanding of what the Trustees of Reservations’s latest project is all about, imagine for a moment, that you’re less than a foot tall. And furry.
Your daily goals are simple ones: set out for food, bring home a few bites for your family, and most importantly, survive the outing. You’re quick for sure, but even though your four rabbit’s feet must bring in a fair share of luck, hawks, owls, and other predators are numerous and hungry, and you just happen to be their favorite dish. To make matters worse, the dense bushes and thorny vines—the cover that enables you to return home unscathed—have thinned out in recent years, and as a result, your numbers—gulp—have dwindled.
That’s why the Trustees of Reservations, the state’s largest conservation organization, has launched its latest project at the Mashpee River Reservation. The goal is to restore the habitat and, consequently, grow the population of the New England cottontail, the only rabbit native to the region—and a species that is facing potential extinction.
According to the Trustees, the range of the New England cottontail—the total geographical area within which the animal can be found—has decreased by 86 percent in the last half-century, largely as a result of a loss of its habitat. Where the animal once resided across a large swath of land from eastern New York to Vermont and Southern Maine, and throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, the species can now only be found in five pockets, or “subpopulations,” within this larger area. Other factors that have contributed to the rabbits’ decline include increased development in the region and the proliferation of a new predator: the coyote. “The rabbit is really getting hammered from a number of different sides,” says Russell Hopping, Ecology Program Director at the Trustees of Reservations.