Baby Eastern Cottontail Rabbits Found in Fire Pit During Backyard Fire
Two eastern cottontail rabbits and a great egret were among the one hundred animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a striped mud turtle, a nestling gray squirrel, a northern cardinal, a double-crested cormorant, two brown pelicans and a red-shouldered hawk.
The two eastern cottontail rabbits were found in distress in a backyard fire pit. After starting a fire in their fire pit, a high-pitched distress call alerted home owners to the presence of a baby bunny within the fire pit. The baby rabbit was found amid the smoke, very near the flames.
A search of the fire pit the following morning revealed there was a second baby at the edge of the fire pit away from where the flames had been which helped the second rabbit avoid more severe injuries.
The people who found the two cottontails did not realize the Wildlife Hospital was open on the weekend. Concerned for the bunnies, they purchased a kitten milk replacement formula at a local pet store and attempted to care for the babies for two days.
When the babies arrived at the hospital their health conditions were very different. The one baby that had been found closest to the fire showed obvious signs of burns and respiratory distress. The rabbit was dull, its fur was singed and its feet were red and swollen.
The second baby was more alert and did not show any outward injuries. Both babies were given electrolytes, pain medications, an antibiotic and placed on oxygen in animal intensive care unit.
The baby rabbits were monitored very closely. The one more severely injured baby bunny’s condition remained steady throughout the day but the following morning the rabbit’s health had declined significantly. At that point staff determined euthanasia was the only humane option. The second young rabbit’s behavior continues to improve. The one surviving rabbit is currently rehabilitating in the nursery at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.
Sadly this is not the only instance of people finding rabbits within their fire pit. A second instance occurred this week with even more severe results. The burns and injuries these two bunnies endured were significant leaving the people involved absolutely horrified over what had occurred.
Discussions with both sets of homeowners helped hospital staff have a better understanding of why the babies were in the fire pits. In both situations the people had filled the fire pits with yard debris including twigs and vegetation over the course of several days. They set the yard waste on fire once the fire pits were full. The problem occurred because the stacked debris and brush sitting unattended for several days made the perfect cover for a mother rabbit to utilize as a nest.
Understanding wild animals and their natural behaviors can help avoid these types of situations. Any brush pile or dense vegetation offers hiding space for a multitude of wildlife to utilize. Rabbits, snakes, and rats typically use dense vegetation to conceal themselves. If you create such a suitable habitat, it is very likely an animal will take up residence.
Please, if you are going to use a fire pit to burn unwanted yard waste, keep it securely covered so no animal can find its way into a potentially harmful and deadly situation. Always carefully check for any animals that may have sought refuge among the wood before starting a fire. Better yet, leave fires pits bare; don’t put any wood or vegetation in a fire pit until you are actually going to start the fire.
Five mourning doves, seven northern mockingbirds, six eastern cottontails, a musk turtle, three gopher tortoises, a Florida softshell turtle, a striped mud turtle, two common grackles, a least tern, a marsh rabbit, two blue jays, an eastern screech owl, three Virginia opossums, three fish crows, two northern cardinals and a red-bellied woodpecker were released this past week.
Opportunities to Help
The von Arx Wildlife Hospital offers many opportunities for volunteer assistance. Currently we are in need of people to volunteer as Critter Couriers. Critter Couriers transport injured, sick and orphaned animals to our hospital when members of the public are unable to do so. Volunteer Critter Couriers are vital to our mission. If you believe you would like to get involved please visit the Conservancy website at www.conservancy.org to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time helps us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.
Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239–262–2273 or see conservancy.org.