Florida’s Wilton Manors is a small neighborhood near Ft. Lauderdale in South Florida. When Alicia Griggs leaves her suburban Fort Lauderdale home, lionhead rabbits—the state’s newest invasive species—come hopping down the street.
The food Griggs is carrying is sought after by the rabbits, who have impressive flowing manes around their heads. She also stands for their best chance of surviving and going inside homes, away from automobiles, cats, hawks, the Florida heat, and – maybe – exterminators employed by the government, where this domesticated breed belongs.
Griggs is leading attempts to raise the $20,000 to $40,000 that a rescue organization would need to catch, spay, immunize, house, and ultimately release the 60 to 100 lionheads that are now residing in Jenada Isles, an 81-home subdivision in Wilton Manors.
About Lionhead Bunnies
Even though the French Federation of Cuniculture does not acknowledge it, the Lionhead rabbit has its origins in France and Belgium. It is said to have been created by breeders who crossed a miniature Swiss Fox with a Netherland dwarf in an effort to create a long-coated dwarf rabbit. Wool developed around the head and on the sides as a result of a genetic mutation that occurred as a result. The “mane” gene is now a common name for this gene. Since the mane gene is distinct from the gene that causes wool coats in wooled rabbits, there are numerous more tales that are similar to this one, such as the lionhead being produced from a Netherland Dwarf and a Jersey Wooly, but none of them have been verified. In the late 1990s, the Lionhead rabbit made its way to the United States after gaining popularity in Europe.
The BRC has recognized the Lionhead breed in the UK since 2002.
Tortoise and Ruby-Eyed White Lionheads were accepted as recognized breeds by ARBA in 2013. Lionheads are now able to compete for Best in Show and receive legs toward Grand Champion as of February 1, 2014.
The annual Lionhead Exhibition Specialty show is held in Columbus, Ohio, by the North American Lionhead Rabbit Club (NALRC). The Lionhead breed is typically represented by between 300 and 500 entrants and between 50 and 80 exhibitors from across North America.
How Did They Get in This Neighborhood?
They are the offspring of a bunch that a backyard breeder unlawfully released when she left two years ago.
“They must be saved immediately. Therefore, we’ve attempted to get the city to act, but they keep putting it off,” Griggs added. They believe that if they do that, they will have to remove iguanas and other unwanted animals from the area.
History of Iguana Invasion in Florida
The earliest sightings of green iguanas in Florida occurred in the 1960s in Hialeah, Coral Gables, and Key Biscayne along the southeast coast of Miami-Dade County. Presently, there are populations of green iguanas throughout the Atlantic Coast in the counties of Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach as well as the Gulf Coast in the counties of Collier and Lee. Alachua, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, and St. Lucie counties in the north have also received complaints. Iguanas are not cold hardy, thus any individuals found in further northern counties are most likely escaped or freed captivity animals, and they are not likely to form communities. Green iguanas can be found living in tunnels, culverts, drainage pipes, and rock or debris piles in cleared habitats like canal banks and bare lots. Iguanas can colonize new places by dispersing across the large man-made canals in South Florida. A company who specializes in pest control in Melbourne FL had this to say “with some of these species it’s like letting the genie out of the bottle. Once they spread there is no containing them. You can see that with the iguana and python situation in South FL.”.
Green iguanas harm residential and commercial landscaping vegetation, and many property owners consider them to be a nuisance. The majority of fruits (aside from citrus) and vegetables, as well as trees with foliage or flowers, are all attractive to iguanas. By excavating burrows that erode and collapse sidewalks, foundations, seawalls, berms, and canal banks, some green iguanas harm infrastructure. Additionally, green iguanas have been known to leave droppings on seawalls, porches, decks, pool platforms, and even within swimming pools. Green iguanas in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park were found to have tree snail remains in their stomachs despite being mostly herbivores. This suggests that iguanas may pose a threat to local and endangered species of tree snails. Green iguanas have eaten nickerbean, a host plant for the imperiled Miami Blue butterfly, at Bahia Honda State Park. Like other reptiles, green iguanas can infect people by spreading the Salmonella bacterium through contact with water or objects that have been contaminated by their feces.
Florida has a long history of invasive species. Most impact the environment in a negative way. This particular crisis is not harming the environment so to speak. But, it’s really sad to see these rabbits suffer.