By Kary Vannice
Mexico is home to 15 different species of rabbits and hares. Of the 15 distinct species, eight are endemic within its borders. Wild rabbits and hares play a vital role in the check-and-balance system of ecosystems. Like other rodents, rabbits must constantly be consuming. Their front top and bottom teeth never stop growing their entire lives, so it takes a lot of daily gnawing and chewing to keep them worn down to usable lengths. This means they contribute to the control of vegetation within their habitat. In turn, they provide food for animals further up the food chain, such as coyotes, weasels, wild cats, hawks, eagles, owls, and some snakes.
According to an article published by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, it is illegal to hunt wild hares and rabbits to sell commercially in Mexico. However, it is a common practice in some rural areas to hunt these animals for subsistence.
For most of us, any hunting of hares we’re doing is with our eyes. After all, in many cultures, it is considered good luck to see a rabbit in the wild. However, you would be fortunate indeed to see any of the following species in the wild during your travels here in Mexico. They are all either on the threatened or endangered species list.
If you happen to be in the mountains of central Mexico, keep an eye out for a Zacatuche, or volcano rabbit. They are officially on the endangered species list here in Mexico, but if you did catch sight of one, you would know it by its tiny brown body and distinctive small ears and small tail. It’s also likely you’ll spot them with or near others in their small familial group. But, if you want to have any chance at all of catching sight of this rare rodent, you’ll have to head up to the high alpine meadows because its habitat is similar to that of the northern pika.
Spotting an Omilteme cottontail rabbit would not only be lucky, it might just make you famous. They are one of the most endangered rabbit species on the planet. In fact, they may already be extinct. Thought to have gone extinct over 100 years ago, there were two specimens officially confirmed in 1998 that gave biologists hope that perhaps this Sierra-Madre-mountain dweller was making a comeback. But there’s been no evidence since to substantiate that theory, except one inconclusive photo taken in 2011. That was the last time anyone claims ever to have seen an Omilteme rabbit. Despite multiple expeditions in 2019 in search of evidence that the Omilteme were still living, there have been no confirmed sightings or DNA evidence gathered in almost 25 years.
The San José Island scrub, or brush, rabbit is also on the endangered list, and its continued survival is further threatened because its only habitat is San José Island off the coast of Baja California. Essentially “landlocked,” not much is known about this little bunny. Still, because it shares its limited home range with many other animal species and humans, it will take considerable conservation efforts to keep it from going extinct.
If you venture into the pine-oak forests of the Sierra de la Madera in Coahuila, you might mistake a Davis rabbit sighting for a common cottontail. Again, not much is known about this species because, until 1998, it was considered a subspecies of the Castilian rabbit. Now that it has the distinction of being recognized as a unique species, it also has the distinction of being on the threatened list.
If you’re not planning to travel much further than your own backyard, you still might catch site of one of Mexico’s most endangered species, the Tehuantepec hare. If you do happen to spot one, you’ll know it by its most distinctive feature – two black stripes that run from the base of each ear to the nape of its neck.
This endemic species only has two pups per litter, reproduces only once a year, and is only currently found in the state of Oaxaca. You’ll have to have a keen eye to spot one, however, because they are well adapted to their environment. At rest, they look gray, but when they run to flee, they expose their belly and their white sides become visible, but as they change direction, they once again appear gray. This helps them to blend in with the surrounding vegetation and evade predators – and perhaps even those simply hoping to catch a glimpse of a very rare hare.