In the U.S., rabbits are classic icons of childhood innocence and mischief. Whether it’s the wise-cracking, carrot-munching Bugs Bunny; the treat-delivering Easter Bunny; sweet Thumper from Bambi; the sleepy young rabbit in Goodnight Moon; or Beatrix Potter’s beloved Peter Rabbit and friends, rabbits have long occupied a cherished place in our collective consciousness.
But while we shower adoration on make-believe bunnies, we too often heap terrible abuses on actual ones. A disturbing number of industries — including apparel, cosmetics, wildlife control, and the pet trade — exploit countless rabbits each and every year.
The call that API received in the spring of 2004 started out like many of the others that we receive on a weekly basis: A suburban community was experiencing an increase in sightings of and encounters with coyotes. The resident who called us was concerned that local officials would advocate lethal control over more humane approaches to co-existing with the wild canids.
In December 1999, the day after an exhausting and fretful search for Soccer, the Gendrons received the phone call every companion animal guardian dreads. The family’s twelve-year-old cat was dead, his neck broken by a Conibear kill trap set by a “pest” control trapper in a residential community in California’s East Bay. A neighbor had hired the trapper to remove a raccoon who was raiding open garbage cans.
On a cool spring morning, a mother black bear and her two young cubs wander through a thick stand of Douglas fir. Having recently emerged from their winter den, they are hungry and eagerly search for cambium, the sugary, energy-rich sap found beneath tree bark.
Around the early 1950s, the “arctic fox” strain of rabies entered Ontario from the north. The province’s abundant populations of red foxes and striped skunks are particularly vulnerable to that strain of rabies, and Ontario soon had the dubious distinction of being the “rabies capital of North America.” As I spent so much time “in the bush” and handled wild animals from childhood as I aided my mother with her work in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, I was familiar with rabies and took vaccinations hoped to protect me in event of contact with rabies.
First came “Mad Cow” Mania. Throughout the 1990s, television and newspaper reports saturated us with information about this strange and frightening disease, more properly known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Before long, a form of mass panic set in. Throughout Europe, millions of healthy animals were slaughtered as a “preventive” measure. The images of gigantic “burn piles” on which animal bodies were dumped are hellish and haunting. (For more information about BSE, see “Beef’s Last Stand.”)
Many wish to see the wolf restored to provide for recovery of an endangered species. Certainly that is what is legally driving the wolf recovery efforts across the country since the animal was listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973. But I hasten to add that we should also be advocating for wolf recovery because wolves are an essential evolutionary factor that has shaped wild ungulate populations and influenced many other species like competing carnivores, such as coyotes, throughout time. By definition, biodiversity preservation means we preserve the elements that create and shape biodiversity evolution. The wolf, as top predator throughout most of North America, is analogous to fire in its interaction with vegetative communities. We can not accept the idea of restoring a few token wolf packs in a few select areas. We need to restore wolves across the landscape to restore a major evolutionary force — the wolf. Biologically there is no reason why this can’t be achieved.