You’ve probably noticed that Southern California is currently on fire. Footage of apocalyptic-looking hills are juxtaposed with heated debate as to whether climate change exacerbated the wildfires.
Providing a brief moment of hope during an otherwise dark time, footage shared on social media accounts appeared to show a man in Santa Barbara County rescuing a wild rabbit from the flames. Many applauded the actions of this impromptu hero, but an article over at Live Science suggests that he may have been doing the wrong thing.
Yes, he may have saved the rabbit, but there’s a chance the rabbit was rushing toward the flames to rescue its offspring. If true, this means that the rabbit may have lived, but its young could have been flambéed – so was the man in question a hero or accidental villain?
The thrust of the original article is based around two primary arguments.
The first is that small mammals and other wild animals have lived through wildfires before, which in certain regions are semi-regular occurrences. As noted by a 2000 US Forest Service report, many of them live through them. Some even require forest fires in order to nest, feed, and migrate.
The animal, as per Live Science, was likely a desert cottontail rabbit. The report highlights that burrowing mammals, including this type of rabbit, are extremely good at surviving wildfires underground. So it’s possible that we were anthropomorphizing the situation, and that in reality, the rabbit knew what it was doing, and would have been fine.
However, it’s fair to point out that firefighters and biologists dealing with wildfires have seen rabbits get trapped and burned in similar scenarios, and rescuing individuals might not be a bad thing in certain situations. Plenty of other animals left unattended have indeed perished in the fire.
In this case, the man made a not-unreasonable assumption that the rabbit might have met with a similarly grim fate unless he stepped in.