The pygmy rabbit is at a crossroads.

As it stands, the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is considered an endangered species. There's some question as to whether or not that designation is appropriate. The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife seeks public input on an upcoming Periodic Status Review.

By 2004 the pygmy rabbit population had dwindled appreciably. Depopulation was so dramatic that these furry creatures were, quite rightfully, added to the ever-ballooning list of endangered species.

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Once a species is identified as nearing extinction, the state or federal government steps in. Special protections are afforded to an endangered animal. For one thing they cannot be bought and sold on the open market.

Nowadays the story is different. The pygmy rabbit population is not surging, but thanks to captive breeding and translocation it has stabilized somewhat, according to this news release.

The ethics of captive breeding are forever under debate. This refers to the process of breeding animals in a controlled but unnatural environment; the Oregon Zoo in Portland once housed a glut of captively bled pygmy rabbits.

Translocation refers to the "intentional capture and release of animals to the wild to establish, reestablish or augment a population," according to the Agriculture Department. This is, again, ethically ambiguous and has yielded mixed results.

In this case, WDFW biologist Gerald Hayes thinks it would be premature to rescind protections for the pygmy rabbit.

“Since pygmy rabbits have not reached population, distribution, or security criteria for downlisting, WDFW staff recommend the species remain state listed as endangered."

This fall the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will decide on the rabbit's fate.

Click here to access the draft Periodic Status Review.

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Gallery Credit: Brett Alan

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