Volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi)

Also known as: Teporingo, Zacatuche
  
French: Lapin De Diaz, Lapin Des Volcans
Spanish: Conejo De Díaz, Conejo De Los Volcanes, Conejo Zacatuche, Teporingo, Zacatuche
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderLagomorpha
FamilyLeporidae
GenusRomerolagus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 27 – 36 cm (2)
Weight400 – 500 g (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

One of the smallest rabbits in the world, this tiny species has very short ears, legs and feet, and only a barely-visible, vestigial tail (2) (4). The short, dense coat is dark brown tinged with yellow on the back and sides, light buff with grey under-fur on the underside, and buff-coloured at the base of the ears (4). This dark colouration blends well with the volcanic soils of the species’ habitat and may serve to protect it from predators. The coat is shed once a year (5).

The volcano rabbit is endemic to Mexico and is restricted to the central part of the Mexican Transverse Neovolcanic Belt (TNB). Populations are currently restricted to three patchily distributed areas on the slopes of just four volcanoes (Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, El Pelado and Tlaloc) (1) (6).

Found between 2,800 and 4,250 metres above sea level in pine forests with dense undergrowth of bunch grasses (primarily zacaton grass) and rocky substrate (4). Most of the areas in which the rabbit is found experience winter drought and summer rains (1).

In groups of two to five individuals, volcano rabbits live in runways and burrows that may be as long as five metres and as much as 40 centimetres wide underground, with the entrance concealed at the base of a clump of zacaton bunch grass (4). This species is thought to be able to breed throughout the year, but with a peak during the warm, rainy summer months from March to early July (4). After a gestation period of around 40 days (4), one to two young are born per litter, although some litters may contain three young (7). The infants remain in the nest for two weeks and begin to eat solid food and move after three (4). In captivity, young have been recorded as independent at 25 to 30 days after birth (8).

Volcano rabbits are mostly crepuscular (4), although they can also be active by day, particularly when the sky is overcast (8). The diet includes the tender green leaves of grasses, the young leaves of spiny herbs, the bark of alder trees and, during the rainy season, also the oats and corn from cultivated crops (4).

This scarce, little-known rabbit has recently disappeared from many areas in central Mexico where it had previously been reported, largely as a result of habitat destruction and hunting for sport, which continue to pose an ever-present threat (1) (6). Habitat has been destroyed and degraded by intentional fires, overgrazing by cattle and sheep, over-exploitation of pine for timber, encroaching agriculture and property developments, and cutting of grasses for thatch and brush manufacture (1) (6). Nearly all fires are started by humans, often originating from people burning zacaton to promote new growth of pasture for cattle and sheep (6).

Hunting of the volcano rabbit is now illegal under Mexican law, but enforcement remains difficult. The species is found within two protected areas, Izta-Popo and Zoquiapan National Parks, but habitat destruction nevertheless continues to occur even within these areas (1) (6). In 1990, the World Conservation Union Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) Lagomorph Specialist Group created an action plan for this rabbit, focusing on the need to manage burning and overgrazing and to enforce laws prohibiting the capture, sale and hunting of the animal (6). As a result, the population of volcano rabbits is higher now than a decade ago (7). Captive breeding colonies exist at Los Coyotes Park and the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, but there are currently no plans to reintroduce captive-bred individuals into the wild (6) (7).

For further information on the volcano rabbit see: 

Authenticated (05/02/2008) by Dr. Andrew Smith, Chair of IUCN/SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group, Arizona State University.
http://sols.asu.edu/faculty/asmith.php

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. CITES (January, 2008)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Cervantes, F.A., Lorenzo, C. and Hoffmann, R.S. (1990) Romerolagus diazi. Mammalian Species, 360: 1 - 7.
  5. Khatri, V. (2007) Endangered Animals of the World. Unicorn Books, India.
  6. Fa, J.E. and Bell, D.J. (1990) The Volcano Rabbit Romerolagus diazi. In: Chapman, J.A. and Flux, J.E.C. (Eds) Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  7. Smith, A. (2008) Pers. comm.
  8. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.