NEW YORK — If anyone knows why the bunnies have disappeared from Central Park, wildlife officials are all ears.
Though abandoned pet rabbits perennially turn up after each Easter in what's affectionately called New York's backyard, a wild cottontail hasn't been spotted in the park for about four years.
"I've been here for 17 years, and there were not many when I got here," Regina Alvarez, director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that manages the huge Manhattan park for the city, said in an e-mail. "But I would see them once in a while."
No other New York park has seen a decline in wild rabbits, said Sarah Aucoin, director of Urban Park Rangers for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
Cottontails seek habitats with lots of food sources and thick brush for protection, so it's possible there are still some hiding out.
Because bunnies "mate like rabbits," if there are still a few, "we'll see an increase, definitely," Aucoin said.
Mary Cotter, who teaches veterinary technology at LaGuardia Community College and has founded a rabbit rescue group in the city, put up posters around the city reading, "Setting Your Pet Rabbit Loose Doesn't Make Her 'Free.' It Makes Her 'Food.' "