Rabbit Rescued from Thomas Fire Receives Second Chance

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California Wildlife Center Executive Director Jennifer Brent (right) removes the doors to the cage holding a rabbit rescued from the Thomas Fire, with help from volunteer Julie Gluck, who has cared for the rabbit over the last few weeks.

A video of a 21-year-old man chasing a wild rabbit against the backdrop of rising flames from the Thomas Fire made headlines in early December. Now, a few weeks later, following care from the California Wildlife Center, the rabbit was released in Ventura with a clean bill of health. 

The young man originally took the rabbit to Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital in Thousand Oaks. The animal was then transferred to California Wildlife Center (CWC) for further care.

Jennifer Brent, CWC executive director, had just returned from the country when news of the rabbit and her transfer came through.

“It was really exciting and I need[ed] to get up to speed,” Brent said, in a phone call with The Malibu Times. “…[The rabbit] came to us on 12/6.” 

Upon arrival, the animal was examined for a number of things including weight, temperature, age, sex and attitude. Based on those results, the veterinarian did a more thorough examination to determine the damage and degree of burns. 

“That’s where they come up with a plan of attack,” Brent said. “[And they] begin any kind of medication at that point.” 

Dr. Duane Tom, the center’s director of animal care, described the rabbit’s wounds which, at first, included burns to her feet and underside. Later, they discovered that her “ears had also been burned off on the edges.” 

“Over time, some of the tissue had died off,” he said. “After we could tell what tissue was going to be good and what wasn’t, we put the rabbit under anesthesia and we trimmed off the tissue.” 

A lot of the healing time had to do with waiting for the rabbit’s long guard hair to grow back. With the upcoming rainy season, the center’s staff wanted to make sure the hair would do its job and protect the rabbit from water.

With its sensitive nature, the rabbit was sent to stay with Julie Gluck, a six-year volunteer who is a part of the CWC’s home care group. 

Gluck cared for the rabbit—who she says is “probably six months old”—at her Agoura Hills home, complete with a temperature-controlled rabbit enclosure. This was to ensure that the rabbit wouldn’t be disturbed or frightened by multiple volunteers coming and going or checking up on her.

“I do supplement care until they’re ready to be released,” Gluck described. 

The young rabbit is a desert cottontail, native to the western United States. 

“She was quite little. [She is] by far one of our most wild rabbits that we’ve had,” Gluck added. “We’re really quite sure that she’s going to be super successful out in the wild.” 

As the animal healed, the center searched for a suitable place to release her.

“So, obviously, Ojai was at the time going through mudslides,” Brent said. “[The] 101 [Freeway] was still closed. We were looking for somewhere nearby that was green.” 

During the process, she contacted City of Ventura Parks and Recreation Department for advice. Specifically, it was imperative that the place had “ample vegetation and enough water and enough cover.” 

For example, Brent explained that a field, while a good place to eat, would not be such a great place due to possible aerial predators.

Once the Ventura location was decided upon, a group of staff and volunteers went to the spot on Wednesday, Jan. 17. Gluck, carrying the rabbit in a covered cage, walked to a suitable spot for the release. 

In the morning sunlight, the cage was opened and once the rabbit felt safe enough, made its way into the wild.

Julie Ellerton contributed to this report.