A New England cottontail rabbit reared at Roger Williams Park Zoo in 2012 acclimates to the wild by first living in large fenced-in areas that protect them from predators. Credit: Courtesy of Kelly Boland, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

DURHAM, N.H. — University of New Hampshire scientists have developed a method to estimate New England cottontail populations, whose numbers have been declining over the past 50 years.

[Bouncing back: Maine landowners work to save cottontail rabbits]

The scientists say the region’s only native rabbit is difficult to monitor due to its rare and secretive nature. With the recently developed method, they will be able to detect trends over time to conserve the rabbits by using DNA collected from fecal pellets. They said they are implementing the tool over 30 managed sites across the species range.

[bdnvideo=1912880]

Since 1960, New England cottontail has lost more than 80 percent of its habitat to make way for housing developments and farmland. The species is endangered in New Hampshire, and in 2016, state authorities released captive bunnies into the wild to increase the state’s populations.

Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.