Friday, June 15, 2007

Cats a threat to Playboy bunnies

The controversy between the rabbits and cats arose earlier this month after the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key announced plans to capture the cats for the first time in its history.

In 2000, they estimated 100-300 Hefner rabbits roamed the refuge. It is unclear exactly how many remain, though the number appears to have plummeted.

A study from the late 1990s found that predators killed 53 percent of Hefner rabbits. Though some are natural predators, including snakes, alligators and birds of prey, the majority were feral cats.

Biologist Paige Schmidt said she's never seen a rabbit in her research because they're so rare. But she's seen plenty of cats.

"The decline of the rabbits is so severe, " Schmidt said. "They have suffered a lot recently. That's why we're trying to recover the population using any means that we have available."

A rare rabbit

The Hefner rabbits evolved about 10, 000 years ago as a subspecies of the marsh rabbit found in mainland Florida, after the sea level dropped and isolated the Keys, Morkill said. That means the rabbits are found nowhere else in the world.

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