Northwest Trek Wildlife Park’s effort to save Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits has earned national notice.
The wildlife park near Eatonville and Oregon Zoo jointly received the prestigious North American Conservation Award during the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) annual meeting in September in Kansas City, Mo. The award, which Northwest Trek has won two years in a row, recognizes exceptional efforts toward regional habitat preservation, species restoration, and support of biodiversity in the wild.
“The conservation of Northwest endangered species, like the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, is central to our mission,” said Gary Geddes, director of zoological and environmental education for Metro Parks Tacoma, which operates Northwest Trek. “We’re gratified to know that we have played a role in aiding the recovery of these tiny rabbits in the wild.”
Northwest Trek’s dozen-year effort to help save the endangered rabbit concluded in 2012. The park released its last breeding rabbits and their offspring in 2010, but staff and volunteers continued to support the program through 2012, building rabbit enclosures and fences in Ephrata.
Only 15 of the tiny rabbits remained when the program began in 2000. Northwest Trek was among the first in the world to successfully breed them.
In the last 13 years, more than 1,600 pygmy rabbits were born through the efforts of Northwest Trek, Oregon Zoo and conservation partners at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington State University.
The rabbits are now breeding successfully in the wild at Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area in eastern Washington under close supervision by state and national wildlife officials.
The pygmy rabbit project was instrumental in laying the foundation for Northwest Trek’s future partnerships on other endangered and threatened species, including the Oregon spotted frog, the Western toad, and the fisher and trumpeter swan, Geddes said.
Northwest Trek’s efforts with the Oregon spotted frog won the North American Conservation Award a year ago.
Winning the award this year shows that Oregon Zoo and Northwest Trek have earned the respect of their peers, Oregon Zoo director Kim Smith said.
“We’re committed to conservation of many endangered species – large and small – and the fact is, these are the last Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits in existence,” she added. “They’re at the bottom of the food chain with the odds stacked against them. It’s gratifying to know that the zoo and its conservation partners have made significant strides in helping their recovery.”
AZA president Jim Maddy hailed Northwest Trek and Oregon Zoo as “proven leaders in wildlife conservation.”
“While all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums make conservation a top priority, this award brings well-deserved recognition to these institutions for making a positive impact on the future of this species,” Maddy said.
Founded in 1924, AZA is a non-profit organization for the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation.