Feb 1

We’ve asked conservation organisations around the world to nominate a species that they believe to be overlooked, underappreciated and unloved, and tell us why they think that they deserve a fair share of the limelight, this Valentine’s Day.

Each nominee’s story is featured on the Arkive blog with information on the species, what makes them so special, the conservation organisation that nominated them and how they are working to save them from extinction.

Click the ‘unloved species’ tag above to see all of the nominations and their blogs.

Once you have perused the blogs you can vote for your favourite to help get them into the top ten unloved species and get them the recognition that they truly deserve! Share your favourite with others using the #LoveSpecies hashtag on Twitter and Facebook and tell them why they should vote for them too. Voting closes on February 14th at 23:59 PST (07:59 GMT).

Join us and our conservation partners in celebrating and raising awareness for some of the world’s most unloved species this Valentine’s Day!


Species: Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit

Nominated by: PDX Wildlife

Conservation status: The Washington US Fish & Wildlife Service considers the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit as a distinct population segment, and listed it as state endangered in 1993.  The distinct population segment of the species was listed in 2003 as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) because a Washington state-wide survey in 2001 found fewer than 30 pygmy rabbits.  Researchers captured 16 of them to start the conservation breeding program at the Oregon Zoo, Washington State University, and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park but by 2004 all Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits were believed to be extirpated.

Why do you love it? What’s not to love about a cute, furry rabbit that can fit in the palm of your hand?! Though small, they are important ecosystem engineers as they are the only US rabbit that can dig their own burrows.

They’re a conservation breeding success story! Starting from 16 in 2004 now the semi-natural breeding enclosures have produced 1,300 kits and released 1,200 rabbits into the wild onto natural and protected habitat on the Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area.  They have been so successful in these breeding pens that last year in 2015 a USFW started to repopulate a second recovery site.

What are the threats to the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit? Similar to giant pandas and bamboo, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits are highly specialised feeders relying on sage brush for 99 percent of their winter diet and more than half of their summer diet.  They also rely on “old-growth” sage brush for the loamy soil it provides so they can dig their burrow systems and take cover among the branches.  The main threat to pygmy rabbits is habitat destruction. Unfortunately, farmers, ranchers and developers have cleared much of their sagebrush habitat.  Other threats include disease, wildfire, a loss of genetic diversity and predation.

What are you doing to save it? Captive breeding and mate choice work was undertaken by a masters student on pygmy rabbits at the Oregon Zoo and Portland State University. The pygmy rabbits had been rescued from the wild a few years before the research was performed and weren’t breeding very well in captivity.  They set up dichotomous choice tests, where female rabbits were housed such that each female was given a choice between two males. Scoring the female’s preference through behavioural analysis, they then then paired females with either preferred or non-preferred males. It was found that the females that had been paired with preferred males were more likely to have litters, produced more kits in each litter, and had kits survive to breeding age more than those paired with non-preferred males.

This paper was the first to investigate a mate preference relationship to reproductive success in captive breeding and led to a similar experiment on giant pandas that was just published in Nature Communications.

Many endangered species breeding programs are plagued with low birth rates and incompatibility among mates. Animals are typically paired based on estimates of genetic relatedness and little to no opportunity is given for mate choice.  PDX Wildlife’s findings on both giant pandas and pygmy rabbits show that scientists should be considering mate choice and behavioural compatibility in conservation breeding programs – “love” may actually be the key to successful breeding!  Due, in part, to this research the decision to breed rabbits in large natural outdoor enclosures was made so they can exercise their own choice. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Find out more about the captive breeding programme for the pygmy rabbit

Read the paper on mate choice and its effects on captive breeding

Find out more about PDX Wildlife’s work

Discover more rabbit and hare species on Arkive