NatureToday | The dune bunnies have moved from Maasvlakte to Vlieland

“The rabbit really belongs in Vlieland. Rabbits are very important to the ecosystem of the dunes. Because they graze on grass and weeds and dig holes, they have a great influence on the vegetation and soil and therefore on other animals. They help prevent certain plants from overgrowth of others and thus contribute to an increase in The dune landscape is diverse.Furthermore, their (old) burrows are also popular with other animals.For example, birds such as grouse and shelducks breed in abandoned rabbit holes.The bald spots caused by rabbits in the dunes are popular with sand lizards who can Sunbathing there.Typical dune types such as sand dunes also need bare spots.More diverse vegetation has a positive effect on insects.For example, we would expect different species of butterflies to have a better living environment.The entire ecosystem in the dunes benefits sandy than having healthy rabbits.”

From shrinking population to growth

“I’ve heard from the islanders that there has been a bit of a mess here with the rabbits. We don’t know exactly how many are still alive, but there are less than fifty. Diseases are the main cause of the massive decline, especially myxomatosis. To get back to a healthy rabbit community, we’re going to launch 25 to 30 rabbits released three times. The first time last week. All these rabbits were tested for myxomatosis and other viruses. If myxomatosis spreads in the coming years, the strongest rabbits will survive this disease and can provide healthy offspring. The phrase “breeding” Like the bunnies” are just right. So if these bunnies are happy here, it will automatically lead to more bunnies.”

Movement with the lowest possible pressure

Rabbit care plays a major role in this plan. We did everything we could to make sure they had as little stress as possible. But of course catching and moving remains cumbersome. They are caught using rodents by an experienced ferret. This allows the ferret to chase the rabbit out of its hole, into a net. Next, the rabbit is placed in a box with hay, separate from the other boxes. This way the rabbit experiences less stress. The animals are then transported directly to Vlieland. Rabbits, 25 to 30 per social group, are placed in burrows dug fifty meters apart. In every castle there will be a wad of hay, as food for the first moment and there will be shelter. We chose this period precisely because the young of the past spring are independent and there are no new ones yet. This creates good conditions.

Rabbits on Maasvlakte

“Although you might not expect it, conditions for dune rabbits are very favorable in Maasvlakte. So good that several thousand rabbits are shot each year in the course of damage control. High densities of rabbits remain after migration. So Three times removing 25 to 30 rabbits has no effect on the rabbit stock.The advantage of Maasvlakte is that, despite the industry, the habitat is quite comparable to the coastal sand dunes.This makes it easier for the rabbits to get used to their new environment.A lot of preparations have been made in This step. For example, DNA was examined and blood samples taken. Two rabbit experts studied, among other things, genetic effects and social aspects in rabbit populations. Because of course we don’t want Flemish giants, but dune bunnies who keep the dunes open here with their grazing.”

additional monitoring

“Aftercare is very important. We have always been watching rabbits in Vlieland, and we will do so more often now. We do it by looking and counting. We look at where new burrows are being created and count the droppings, for example. We have also put up some wildlife cameras.” In this way we hope to be able to see that the new rabbits are doing well. We have done everything possible for that. And frankly we assume that, otherwise it would be irresponsible to move the rabbits. The best evidence that they are doing well is, of course, when we see “A rabbit will run away again in a few years. Then the rabbit can really play its major role in the sand dune ecosystem again. As it should.”

Text and photos: StaatsbosbeHer

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