A Cottontail Quandary: Chicago's Rabbit Problem - Atlas Obscura
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A Cottontail Quandary: Chicago’s Rabbit Problem

article-imagePhotograph by Chrissy Wainwright

Chicago is a big city with big city animal problems. Pigeons can be a nuisance downtown, rats require constant control, and spiders infest its many tall buildings. Chicago can also boast of a local population of coyotes and even a mountain lion that found its way into the city limits.

But the one animal that Chicago has in overabundance is rabbits.

article-imagePhotograph by Anna Pavlyuchkova

Robert Sullivan in his book Rats took time out of his rodent theme to proclaim: “I also noticed that in addition to a rat problem, Chicago public parks appear to have a bit of a rabbit problem. Rabbits were hopping all over the place, believe it or not. It was a little scary…”

Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Advisory Council in Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune: ”It’s like ‘Night of the Living Rabbits’ when you’re out there near sundown,” 

And it’s true. In many parts of the city, an evening stroll would be odd if one didn’t encounter at least one rabbit nibbling on the landscaping or sniffing about a sewer grate. A prime rabbit viewing spot is the Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens in the historic Prairie Avenue District. Home to the 1836 Clarke House (Chicago’s oldest), this pleasant urban retreat often has a dozen or more rabbits laying about and peeking out from bushes. The park’s produce garden is very carefully double-fenced and presumably watched over by Mr. McGregor. 

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Rabbit at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago (photograph by idontlikeribena/Flickr user)

While many people enjoy the rabbits, they are, sadly, a nuisance to city planners. After the construction of Millennium Park downtown, rabbits caused over $100,000 worth of damage, eating shrubbery and killing trees by gnawing on the bark. A trapping program quickly caught over 100 which were later released in the woods out of town.  

article-imagePainted rabbit-killed trees (photograph by Larry Bryant)

In a modern case of turning lemons into lemonade, creative Chicagoans painted rabbit-killed trees blue and orange, starting a theme that can still be seen in various parts of the city. Why those colors? It could be because of yet another group of animals that is found in one particular place: Soldier Field. They’re known as the Chicago Bears. 

But if you’re not a sports fan and you’d like to spend a moment with inner-city wildlife, Chicago will accommodate you.  


Animal Week is November 18 - 22, 2013 on Atlas Obscura. 
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