Ever heard of the New England cottontail? Although very closely related to their more prosperous cousins the Eastern cottontail, New England’s self-named rabbit is distinctly different. And they are dwindling.

According to the Housatonic Times, the species has lost nearly 85 percent of its natural range in the last half-century with a likewise drop in population. The Eastern cottontail, which is more adaptable, has since then claimed most of the former’s territory. Now, hunters, conservationists, and government agencies are rushing to provide a habitat for the fast-declining species.

“It’s a challenge,” said White Memorial Conservation Center Director James Fischer. “We could lose our only indigenous rabbit. There is a chance it will become so rare it will need designation as an endangered species—that it will become so rare we can’t intervene enough to save it.”

White Memorial in Connecticut will be the site of a 45-acre project to start restoring the New England cottontail. Scheduled to be completed in 2015, the land will be transformed into a suitable cottontail habitat with lots of thick shrub land.

A wider federal program is also promising assistance to groups who work to preserve the species. Wild New England Cottontails now only exist in parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York. The cottontail is currently a prime candidate to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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