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White-sided jackrabbit Lepus callotis
ESA status: petitioned for listing
The white-sided jackrabbit is a long and lanky grassland dweller of the Chihuahuan Desert region. It is named for its distinctive white sides, which it “flashes,” possibly to distract predators.
This rarely-seen jackrabbit is found in a limited portion of North America stretching from New Mexico’s bootheel to Oaxaca, Mexico, along the eastern flank of the Sierra Madre Occidental. In the United States its range is confined to an area of 46.3 square miles in New Mexico’s bootheel, in southern Hidalgo County.
It’s rarely seen in the U.S., in part because there are fewer than 100 left, down from over 300 in the late 1970s. It is likely gone altogether from one of the valleys it used to inhabit (the Playas Valley) and hangs on in just a single, confined area in the Animas Valley. The white-sided jackrabbit is almost exclusively nocturnal, hiding in stands of grass by day to avoid its predators. The jackrabbits don’t lack for company, however. Male and female jackrabbits usually travel together in pairs and rarely separate, even after breeding. The jackrabbit has a pretty consistent meal plan – 99 percent of its diet is grass. But it has one trick to vary its diet; it is the only jackrabbit known to use its front paws to dig up the bulbous tubers of nutgrass for a snack. This “handsome hare” (as Aldo Leopold described it) is an indicator of grassland health, as it needs pure stands of grass. Lacking this habitat it disappears, replaced by the black-tailed jackrabbit, which does better than its cousin in degraded grasslands. And degraded grasslands are not in short supply, due to a combination of livestock grazing, drought, climate change, and other factors. An increasing threat in the U.S. is road mortality due to collisions with Border Patrol vehicles. One scientist has warned that this threat alone could cause the species to vanish from the U.S.
Overall, its distribution and abundance in the United States has steeply declined. Researchers in Mexico estimate that the white-sided jackrabbit will lose some 60 percent of its range by 2050, thanks to climate change. Despite this bleak picture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) refused to list the white-sided jackrabbit under the Endangered Species Act. WildEarth Guardians is challenging refusal of the FWS to protect this imperiled jackrabbit and will continue to fight for its survival.
WildEarth Guardians celebrates Easter by raising awareness of imperilled bunnies and birds. See the range of the white-sided jackrabbit and other creatures of springtime on this map.
- Significant Actions
- October 2008 - WildEarth Guardians submits petition to list the jackrabbit under the Endangered Species Act
- August 2009 - WildEarth Guardians reaches a legal settlement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring them to issue a finding on the petition
- July 2009 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues a positive preliminary finding on the petition
- September 2010 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues a negative listing determination for the white-sided jackrabbit
- April 2011 - WildEarth Guardians files a notice of intent to sue challenging the negative listing determination for the white-sided jackrabbit
- March 2014 - Guardians successfully crowdfunds a scientific expedition through New Mexico and into Mexico in order to study the white-sided jackrabbit and its habitat
- Press Releases
- October 9, 2008 - "Group Launches 'Western Ark'"
- July 22, 2009 - "Rare Southwestern Jackrabbit Hops Toward Federal Protection"
- August 11, 2009 - "Settlement Reached Over New Mexico Endangered Species"
- April 21, 2011 - "Easter Bunny: Hopping Toward Extinction?"
- Species Factsheet
- Related Campaigns