Giving bunnies a boost: Students further cottontail conservation

Students at Bristol County Agricultural High School are used to an out-of-the-ordinary educational experience. After all, “Bristol Aggie” offers programs in floriculture, animal science, and agricultural mechanics. The latest addition to its natural resource management curriculum, however, is rare indeed.

Bristol Aggie is the newest member of a partnership led by the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex to save the New England cottontail, the only rabbit native to the region. The species is at risk of being listed as endangered due to extensive loss of habitat.

New England cottontail. MassWildlife

Rabbit husbandry joins the eastern-Massachusetts school’s programs with at-risk Blanding’s turtle, wood turtle, and northern red-bellied cooter. With guidance from wildlife managers, students raise young New England cottontails to be released into the wild on Nomans Land Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The cross-generational project has been commended as a model of collaboration. Additional partners are MassWildlife, Roger Williams Park Zoo, and University of Rhode Island.

The students take their contribution to conservation seriously, and the value of participating in a real-life project isn’t lost on them. In their words:

Bristol Aggie students prepare New England cottontails for a trip to Roger Williams Park Zoo for a health check. USFWS/Kelsey Mackey

“Every day, I tend to the rabbits to keep them safe and healthy. It is my responsibility to uphold our portion of the agreement…meaning I have to work closely with my classmates to ensure all of the rabbits in our care can be released back into the wild when the time comes.” -Serena Cornell

“It feels as if I’m bettering the future, and I get to be a part of something that I know will have a lasting impact.” -Mia Slater

“New England cottontail conservation is important to me because I care about preserving the environment for future generations and for the benefit of the species.” -Andrew Flory

“It is an incredible experience to be working with professional conservationists helping me learn with hands-on experiences that will later help me in the natural resource management field.” -Isabella Bartlett

New England cottontail. MassWildlife

While still in high school, these young people are working to ensure that New England cottontails will be around for generations to come.

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We conserve nature in the northeast U.S. for the benefit of wildlife and the American people. Love your natural and wild places! Explore the world around you by hiking, fishing, hunting, and volunteering. More info at fws.gov/northeast

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