Doggone Rabbits?
Whether you are a "sniper type" rabbit hunter for Jacks, or a hop-skip-and-jump type bunny bopper, you may have noticed in your favorite area that available targets have become reasonably scarce. Questions that often arise under these conditions are, "Where have all the rabbits gone, and will they be back? " Over the length of the time line, the answer is commonly, "I don’t know, and yes!"

The phenomenon of boom and bust in small prey species is most often as normal as the coming and going of draughts and flood years. The purging force in the ecological cycle is very much like the streetsweepers who follow a ticker-tape parade. Once the big crowd has slowly assembled and done as much to trash an area as possible, the last one through sweeps almost everything away and things start on their way back to normal. In the natural world, whether the streetsweeper is a huge boom in predators, or the devastation of one of the many maladies that run through the ground dwellers leaving only a few hearty individuals as "seed" for the next generation, the cause-and-effect mechanism goes into play.

The understanding of these cycles, though lacking the ability to accurately predict the when-and-where of it, is very easy. Let's look at one subjective acre of land on a very rapid time line. Let’s say this acre has the holding capacity to feed 5 rabbits indefinitely. On our acre the five rabbits can exist with only one eagle and one coyote roaming through their area and eating the unlucky one once in awhile. But the rabbits' breeding instinct is higher than their thought processes — they begin eating themselves out of house or home and push their numbers to 20-plus. Of course, the coyote and eagle see all these rabbits running around and they come to feed more often, as do fellow predators. All the while the rabbits' food source goes south, and they begin to scratch for anything they can fill up on, including substandard rations. The predators keep picking away at the rabbits, but much faster than the food resource can rejuvenate to sustain the dropping rabbit population. The weakened rabbits start being infected with the assorted range of killing maladies and — BOOM — it's back to the lonely Adam and Eve of rabbits.

The expanding population of coyotes and other predators begin to feel the same effect due to the crashing rabbit population. There is not enough easy food, too much energy is spent filling stomachs thereby weakening their condition, and eventually their own particular biotic predators crash their numbers. Now only Wiley and his bride are left to eventually repopulate when mealtime eventually begins to improve.

The booming numbers of mice, voles and sage rats, which certainly had been second-plate for the predators who had been able to easily put a bigger chunk of meat on the table by killing rabbits, once again become the focus for dinnertime. And as the anchor in the food chain, they are used up, but sustain the predators to eventually re-breed. Once again the hoop of life gets back to the starting point for this system. The forage on the acre can reproduce without being chewed into the ground and… well, you get the picture.

This purging is nature’s way of genetic selection and improvement. This entire scene is highly dramatic and fairly gruesome, but it is Mother Nature’s way of spanking her children to make them better.

Hunting pressure at any point in this drama, for the most part, has little effect. Being highly mobile, as shootable numbers of game become harder to obtain, hunters move on to a greener pasture, effectively taking ourselves out of the picture.

This cycle can move over a relatively small region, or can noticeably affect a huge area. It has happened this way for thousands of years. No one can pull out a calendar and give a time line on each cycle. Yet, be assured, the second answer to the question is, "Yes, they will be back!"


Frank Medicine Wolf Springer

| WH Home | Contact Western | WH Archive |

Copyright © 2000 J & D Outdoor Communications. All rights reserved.