Historical records indicate that 130 years ago, the white-tailed jack rabbit was abundant in the Yellowstone vicinity. The last confirmed sighting was in 1991. What happened? This apparently remains a mystery, according to Rabbit Expert Joel Berger.
“It could be disease, extreme weather, predation, or other factors,” he says. “Since the rabbits blipped off without knowledge, there has simply been no way to get at the underlying cause.”
Berger believes the absence of jack rabbits–historically, an important prey species in the ecosystem–may lead coyotes to rely on juvenile elk, pronghorn, and other ungulates for food. Predators elsewhere tend to prey more heavily on livestock when rabbit densities drop. But without baseline data on rabbit numbers in Greater Yellowstone, it is difficult to assess the impacts on predators such as grey wolves, which were reintroduced in 1995.
“Lacking a sense of historical conditions, it will always be difficult to decide whether current systems function ecologically like past ones,” says Berger.
Berger is proposing a reintroduction scheme.
For its part, the Bush Administration has assigned one of their chief conservation officers, Elmer Fudd, to look into the matter.