While my previous two posts of Mexico’s mammal fauna largely focused on the country’s remarkable rates of endemism and biodiversity, I’ll now turn to one species that was perhaps the focus of my entire trip. If you ask any mammalogist, researcher, or wildlife enthusiast about Mexico, perhaps the mammal they’ll first point to is the Volcano Rabbit.
And they’d be right to do so: Volcano Rabbits are awesome. What’s not to like about tiny, chocolate brown bunnies that live in colonies on some of North America’s highest mountains–like Mexico’s answer to pikas. Volcano Rabbits have become a poster child for Mexico’s mammal fauna and are a perfect testament to the country’s role as a veritable factory for microendemic species.
But, like so many other amazing species, Volcano Rabbits are in trouble. The isolated slopes they call home are surrounded by one of the world’s largest cities. Added to that, one of their key habitats, the slopes of Volcan Popocatepetl, is in danger of being destroyed due to future volcanic eruptions. While adequate attention has been paid to captive breeding of this charismatic species at conservation centers around the world, protecting a rare species in its native range must always be given first priority.
So this takes me to my story. This summer, I was fortunate enough to visit one of the volcanoes that this animal calls home, and actually see multiple Volcano Rabbits in the wild. (As a shameless plug, this probably makes me the first person to see my lifer Pygmy Rabbit and Volcano Rabbit in the same year 🙂 ). I traveled to the slopes of Volcan El Pelado, just outside the southern suburbs of Mexico City, where I saw Volcano Rabbits, alongside Mexican Cottontails, Sierra Madre Sparrows, and a host of other interesting species in a morning’s hike.
Seeing the Volcano Rabbits was a great experience, even though I probably have to go back to get a proper photo. But the best surprise of the day was seeing the pride of the locals in their endemic rabbit. The site I visited, home to abundant and well-studied Volcano Rabbit populations, was not a national park–rather it was a community conservation area protected by the project “Monitoreo Milpa Alta.” So I guess another piece of evidence for the theory that community conservation is perhaps our best tool to conserve wildlife in a rapidly developing world.
Volcano Rabbits were perhaps my main motivation for going to Mexico, and the experience more than lived up to my expectations. I came looking for a charismatic and endangered species, but left with not only multiple rabbit sightings under my belt, but also a keen awareness of the people who are passionately working to ensure that these animals stick around for future generations. Thanks to Juan Cruzado for making me aware of this amazing place, Monitoreo Milpa Alta for showing me a great time in their conservation area, and the Volcano Rabbits for giving me one of my all-time favorite mammal sightings.