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Dr. French delivers lecture about caring for wild rabbits at CROW

By Staff | Dec 22, 2010

Last week, Dr. Stephanie French delivered a presentation titled ”Is That Baby Bunny Orphaned? Care Of Wild Rabbits At CROW." She will deliver another lecture in February called "Squirrel Care At CROW."

More often than not, the question of whether a baby bunny has been abandoned by its mother is that it probably hasn’t been. Understandably, good-hearted people have a soft spot for young wildlife, and will try to help the seemingly helpless creature.

But in most cases, they should be left alone.

Last Thursday morning, in a presentation titled “Is That Baby Bunny Orphaned? Care Of Wild Rabbits At CROW,” Dr. Stephanie French explained that young rabbits are independent just two to three weeks after birth.

“Although people may be well intentioned, they should be looking for clues to determine if the rabbit has really been orphaned,” she said. “Even though they are small and appear to be too young to be on their own, they are not.”

As part of the Healing Winds Visitor Education Center’s Lecture Series at CROW, Dr. French shared some of the knowledge she has gained about treating rabbits brought in to the clinic. A vast majority of cases involving injured bunnies are due to human interaction (i.e. being run over by vehicles).

The most common rabbit found on Sanibel, the Eastern Cottontail can have up to seven litters per year and are most active at dusk and dawn.

Other injuries or harmful interactions, including attacks from both domestic pets and wild animals, do happen. Of CROW’s 3,978 cases to date this year, 293 have involved rabbits.

On Sanibel, the two most common species that are seen are the Eastern Cottontail and the Marsh rabbit. Both vegetarians, cottontails can have up to seven litters per year and are most active at dusk and dawn. They are born blind and deaf.

Marsh rabbits, Dr. French noted during her 40-minute presentation, have “stumpier” physical features than cottontails — their ears are smaller and more rounded. They also tend to walk instead of hop.

“We have had a really high percentage of releases,” she said of rabbits cared for at CROW. “Our main goal is to find the right balance between delivering care and their levels of stress.”

Dr. French graduated from the University of Illinois with her DVM and has a MS in molecular reproductive physiology. Formerly a veterinary intern at CROW, she will be entering the residency program at Michigan State University in June.

The physical features of the marsh rabbits are "stumpier" than other rabbits. Their ears are smaller and more rounded.

At the clinic, staff and volunteers have developed a special diet that seems to work well with recovering rabbit patients. It includes leafy greens, alfalfa, a synthetic milk that is as close to genuine bunny milk as can be created and — oddly enough — banana flavored baby food.

“Whatever we put that on, they really seem to like it,” she said.

Before being released, rabbits must first be able to eat on their own. They should also show signs of gaining weight, destroying their housing and generally acting “unfriendly” to their caregivers.

“That’s a good sign,” Dr. French noted. “We don’t want them to get used to being handled by humans.”

People who may find rabbits in their yard, or have seen evidence of their nests on their property, should be encouraged to check for the tiny critters before partaking in outdoor activities, such as mowing the lawn. And if they happen to find a bunny that has been abandoned, is sick or injured, they should call CROW for assistance.

“Keep them covered in a dark and quiet place,” said Dr. French, who noted that a cardboard box covered by a towel or blanket will suffice. “That should keep their stress level to a minimum.”

Upcoming Lecture Series presentations include:

• Dec. 30 — “Virginia Opossums At CROW,” presented by Tanya Mejia from the University of Delaware

• Jan. 6 — “2010 Patient Year In Review,” presented by Dr. Amber McNamara, Clinic Director

• Jan. 13 — “Turtles & Tortoises,” presented by Shalette Dingle from Yale University

• Jan. 20 — TBD, presented by Amanda Radek from the University of Iowa

• Jan. 27 — TBD, presented by Tanya Mejia from the University of Delaware

• Feb. 3 — “Squirrel Care At CROW,” presented by Dr. Stephanie French

The Lecture Series is held at 11 a.m. each Thursday at the CROW Healing Winds Visitor Education Center, located at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road (across from The Sanibel School). It is free to CROW members and to children 12 and under. Adult admission is $5 and young adults 13-20 are $3.

Following the presentations, everyone is invited to tour the facility and learn more about CROW’s efforts to save wildlife through compassion, care and education.

To learn more about CROW, visit www.crowclinc.org or call 472-3644. Current hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.