, Volume 16, Issue 12, pp 3489-3504
Date: 09 Jul 2006

Is the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) a threatened species in spain? Sociological constraints in the conservation of species

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Abstract

The Wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is an endemic species of the Iberian Peninsula and is essential for the conservation of endangered predators. Rabbits are also of high importance as a hunting species. From 1988, rabbits suffered the severe effects of rabbit hemorrhagic disease, which caused large declines in most populations. Despite this fact, the National Red Data Lists continued to classify rabbits as a “Least Concern” species. We used available hunting bag data from 1973 to 2002 to model national trends of rabbit abundance and to evaluate the conservation status according to the criteria of the National Red Data List and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Generalized Additive Models were used as the statistical framework. The rabbit population of Spain suffered a large decline of about 71% between 1973 and 1993. This decline was 49% in the period 1980–1990. Based on both Spanish and World Conservation Union criteria, rabbits should be listed as ‘Vulnerable’, which demands a Conservation Plan Program. We suggest that the lack of concordance between the best available evidence and the conservation status of the species is a consequence of sociological constraints in conservation decisions. Rabbit conservation could face strong opposition from important socio-economic lobby groups (hunters and farmers). As such, governments and researchers may prefer to exclude rabbits from any status category requiring conservation action, despite the evidence of decline. We call for the urgent development of a nation-wide conservation program for rabbits which includes both socioeconomic constraints and the available biological data on population trends.