Saving the New England Cottontail Rabbit

Great Hollow’s executive director, Dr. Chad Seewagen, and naturalist, John Foley, recently participated in the annual meeting of the New England Cottontail Technical Committee, which is a consortium of federal and state agencies, universities, and conservation organizations dedicated to the recovery of the Northeast’s only native rabbit species. Not to be confused with the introduced and invasive Eastern Cottontail that is ubiquitous to suburban backyards and the like, the rare and declining New England Cottontail is currently known to occur in only 104 sites from southern Connecticut to Maine. Nearly identical, they can only be reliably distinguished from one another by DNA. Working with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Great Hollow was excited to confirm last year that we have a potentially significant population of New England Cottontails on our preserve. We are one of only 58 known sites in all of Connecticut. We are now continuing to work with DEEP and the University of New Hampshire to conduct additional genetic analyses of fecal pellets collected at Great Hollow to determine the size of the population. We’re also exploring opportunities to study the rabbits in more detail and manage that area of our preserve to enhance habitat conditions for New England Cottontails while discouraging their invasive competitor, the Eastern Cottontail. Stay tuned for more!

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