40.
Volcano Rabbit
(Romerolagus diazi)
EN
Overview
Believed to be the most primitive of all living rabbits or hares, this little-known species is also one of the smallest. It lives in small groups above ground high up on the pine-clad slopes of volcanoes near Mexico City. Living so close to the largest city on the planet, the rabbit suffers greatly from the effects of habitat destruction, fires, hunting and pollution. Few people are aware that hunting the species is illegal, and the rabbits are often killed for food by the local people or used as target practice by hunters looking for game birds.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Enforcement of laws protecting the species, development of effective habitat management programmes, and creation of habitat corridors to link isolated populations.
Distribution
Found only on the slopes of four volcanoes in central Mexico.
Associated Blog Posts
7th Nov 11
Scientists believe the volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi) is the most primitive of all living rabbits or hares.  The volcano rabbit is so different from oth...  Read

3rd Feb 11
Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year and 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit. In celebration of the Chinese year of the Rabbit, sales o...  Read

Media from ARKive
ARKive video - Capture of volcano rabbits for captive breeding programme at Jersey Zoo, 1980
ARKive image - Volcano rabbit in habitat
ARKive image - Volcano rabbit
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
The order Lagomorpha contains two families, the Ochotonidae (pikas) and Leporidae (rabbits and hares). These families are thought to have diverged during the late Eocene, 35-38 million years ago. The Leporidae comprises two groups: the jackrabbits and hares of the genus Lepus, and the rabbits in the remaining ten genera. Recent molecular data indicates that most rabbit and hare genera arose from a single rapid diversification event during the Miocene (between 12 and 16 million years ago). Although no fossil data are available to indicate when Romerolagus diverged from other leporids, it is considered by many scientists to be the most primitive of living rabbits and hares. The volcano rabbit is monotypic (the only species in its genus).
Description
Size: 
Head and body length: 270-315 mm
No visible tail
Ear length: 40-44 mm
Weight: 387-602 g
Characterised by short round ears and short legs, the volcano rabbit is one of the smallest leporids. Its short dense fur is coloured dark brown or black on the back and sides, and grey underneath. There is no visible tail.
Ecology
Volcano rabbits live in groups of 2-5 animals in areas of bunch grass (zacaton). Although they occasionally occupy burrows dug by other species, they spend most of their time at the surface, where the dense zacaton keeps them hidden from predators. The species is predominantly nocturnal, with most activities taking place just before dawn or after dusk. At these times the animals travel along well-maintained runways through the zacaton, feeing on green leaves, spiny herbs and the bark of alder trees. Breeding occurs throughout the year, but peaks in the warm, rainy summer. Females usually give birth to 2-3 young in a shallow underground nest.
Habitat
The species generally occurs at elevations of 2,800-4,250 m in open pine forests with a dense undergrowth of zacaton and rocky substrates. Volcano rabbits are also found in secondary alder forests with a heavy grass-shrub understorey. Most of the areas where the rabbit is found have winter drought and summer rains with a mean annual precipitation of around 1,500 mm.
Distribution
The species is endemic to central Mexico, and found on the slopes of only four volcanoes across the Tansverse Neovolcanic Belt (TNB) - Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl (Sierra Nevada), and El Pelado and Tlaloc (Sierra Chichinautzin). The present distribution is restricted to three discontinuous areas of core habitat which together cover an area of around 386 km². There are a few scattered populations remaining outside the core habitat areas, but these are small and isolated by physical barriers such as highways.
Population Estimate
No reliable estimates, although a survey in the late 1980s suggested that there are around 6,500 around Volcano El Pelado alone.
Status
Classified as Endangered (EN B2ab(i,ii,iii,v)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Threats
Habitat destruction and illegal hunting are the main threats to survival. A variety of factors appear to be responsible for the continuing erosion of the forest habitat. These include forest fires, overgrazing by cattle and sheep, encroachment by agriculture and property developments, over-exploitation of timber, and cutting of grasses for thatch and brush manufacture. Popocatepetl has been active in recent years and thus a major threat to existing habitat.
Conservation Underway
Hunting of the species is now illegal under Mexican law and protected areas have been established in areas containing the rabbits (Izta-Popo and Zoquiapan National Parks). However, laws to protect the rabbit from hunting and habitat destruction are not being enforced. Even in areas where it is protected, the species is suffering from the effects of illegal hunting and habitat loss. In attempt to raise public awareness of the species and protect against catastrophes occurring in wild populations, captive breeding colonies were established at Jersey Zoo, UK and Chapultepec Zoo, Mexico City. Unfortunately the Jersey Zoo colony did not survive.
Conservation Proposed
The IUCN/SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group have created an Action Plan for the species. The plan focuses upon the need to establish good management programmes to prevent burning and overgrazing of the zacaton habitats and to enforce laws prohibiting the capture, sale and hunting of the species. Research is recommended into the geographical range, habitat relationships, population dynamics and life history of the species. In addition, the plan stresses the need for the establishment of zacaton corridors to link core areas of habitat. These efforts should be linked to public awareness and education programmes to enable people to learn how to combine development with conservation.
Links
IUCN/SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group
International group focused on the conservation and management of pikas, rabbits and hares.
References
Fa, J. E. and Bell, D. J. 1990. The Volcano Rabbit Romerolagus diazi. Pp: 143-146. In: Chapman, J.A. & Flux, J.E.C. (eds.). Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Mexican Association for Conservation and Study of Lagomorphs (AMCELA), Romero Malpica, F.J., Rangel Cordero, H., de Grammont, P.C. & Cuarón, A.D. 2008. Romerolagus diazi. In: 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Downloaded on 12 November 2010.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

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