Black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) are not native to Florida, but by 2003 they had been well-established at Miami International Airport (MIA) for many years. How and when they were introduced to this expansive airport property was unknown. Speculations as to their origins included escapes from a rabbit farm or escapes from transit to dog racing tracks for use in training greyhounds. By 2003, the black-tailed jackrabbit population at MIA was considered to be around 500. They also had been observed in other parts of Florida, but not as breeding populations.
Occupation of the MIA property by a large number of black-tailed jackrabbits posed two serious threats (see Engeman et al. 2007a). First, even though MIA is relatively encapsulated by the Miami metro area, the jackrabbits still posed a significant invasive threat for Florida. The species is highly fecund, and they also are a highly mobile, fast-moving species. Once outside the confines of Miami they could rapidly spread through Florida (and beyond). The other significant problem their population posed was to cause a severe increase in bird airstrike hazards. Black-tailed jackrabbits were often killed by collisions with aircraft and vehicles, or the back-blast from jet engines. Their carcasses proved highly attractive to vultures (Cathartes aura and Coragyps atratus ) for forage. This created a considerable air safety concern, as vultures present significant hazards to aircraft while taking off or landing (e.g., Dolbeer et al 2000). Besides safety concerns, bird strikes also result in lost revenue and very costly aircraft repairs.
Removal of the black-tailed jackrabbit population at MIA was instigated as a response to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations mandating the problem be solved for safety reasons (From March 2001 to March 2003 at least two dozen vultures were struck by aircraft at MIA). Thus, the human safety issue motivated their removal, rather than their potential for ecological harm should they have dispersed from MIA. Had it not been for their exacerbation of airstrike hazards at MIA, it is unlikely they would have been eradicated and their population would have continued to be a festering threat for eventual dispersal.
The eradication also revealed the political, economical and social complexities involved in carrying a conceptually straight-forward, but highly visible process. The eradication was delayed multiple times to assuage public sentiment towards lethal control by allowing a live-trapping and translocation (to Texas) attempt to proceed first. That endeavor was unsuccessful at removing more than a portion of the population. Finally, a court ruling allowed the eradication effort to go forward for the sake of the flying public's safety. Lethal removal was efficient and effective at eliminating the black-tailed jackrabbit population, and at a significantly lower cost than the live-trapping venture (Engeman et al. 2007a).
The political, economic and management paths to that success may have been convoluted, but because a human safety concern was clearly recognized, the black-tailed jackrabbit apparently became the first well-established invasive vertebrate species intentionally eradicated from Florida.
Was this article helpful?