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Earth Notes: Black-Tailed Jackrabbit Decline In Southwest

Populations of desert-dwelling Antelope Jackrabbits have remained relatively stable over the years in southern Arizona. But that is not the case for their high elevation cousins, the Black-tailed Jackrabbit. Their numbers are declining across the southwestern U.S., including on the Colorado Plateau.

Researchers at Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University wondered if the decline was due to reduced food availability. But studies of scat showed that wasn’t the likely cause.

Black-tailed Jackrabbits are very adaptable foragers. They often travel up to several miles a night, feeding on a wide range of plants. Low to the ground and well-camouflaged, they don’t need much cover to travel back to their home range the next day.

They usually live in open areas, relying on their exceptional speed and leaping ability to evade predators. Actually a species of hare, mating pairs typically produce one or two surviving offspring a year.

To explain their decline in the Southwest, researchers point the finger at predators. Starting in the 1970’s, there’s been increasing federal protection for hawks, owls and eagles, whose primary food is Black-tailed Jackrabbits.

And in 1986, the pest control chemical sodium flouroacetate – commonly known as 1080 – was banned. It was used for decades to poison so-called “pests”, including foxes, coyotes, bob cats and golden eagles. It resulted in an increase of these predator populations, likely leading to a natural decrease in Black-tailed rabbits and other prey.