In some parts of the world they thrive, to the extent they are regarded as pests, yet in their native range on the Iberian Peninsula rabbits are Near Threatened with extinction, according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Their decreasing numbers have also had alarming impacts on the Critically Endangered Iberian Lynx and the Spanish Imperial Eagle.
The European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) was introduced to Western Europe by man as early as the Roman period, and since then to South America and Australasia. Only Spain, Portugal and areas of North Africa are its native homeland. Ironically, it is from these areas that over-hunting, habitat loss and eradication programmes have combined with two diseases (Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus), to threaten the European Rabbit's very existance. The survival of the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) and Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) are pivotal on the success of the rabbit, which is a main source of prey for these emblematic predators.
In the 2008 update of The IUCN Red List the conservation status of the European Rabbit was uplisted to Near Threatened across the whole of its native range.
“It is hoped that these reclassifications can help pressure governments and conservation organisations to do more to conserve the species, and also help change the view of rabbits from being predominantly a pest to also being a vitally important component of native ecosystems.” Dan Ward, spokesperson for SOS Lynx.