News, Culture & Society

Man who saved rabbit from fires speaks out

The mystery animal lover who was filmed frantically chasing a rabbit in the California wildfires to try to rescue spoke out on Friday to dismiss wildlife experts’ criticism of his act and insist that he saved the animal’s entire ‘family’. 

Father-of-one Oscar Gonzalez, 19, is the man who thousands hailed a ‘hero’ after seeing him jumping up and down in desperation as the rabbit bounded along Highway 1 in La Conchita while the flames of the Thomas Fire engulfed shrubbery and trees nearby. 

Gonzalez lives in Pacoima with his fiancée and their five-month-old daughter. Their home was not affected and they have not been told to evacuate. 

On Tuesday, he was driving a friend home from work in Sylmar when he said he saw the white rabbit bounding along the side of Highway 1 as flames raged next to it.  

‘I have animals myself I didn’t want the poor rabbit to get hurt. I knew it was dangerous but I couldn’t leave them to burn!’ he said.


Oscar Gonzalez (pictured with his fiancee) is the mystery animal lover who picked up a rabbit on the side of the road as it fled the California wildfires 

At first, the frightened animal ran away from him. In desperation, he yelled ‘what are you doing?!’ and jumped up and down. 

Gonzalez says it then ran straight into into his arms and allowed him to scoop it up. He walked it to the other side of the highway, where there were no flames, and set it down again. 

Despite an outpouring of praise for him on social media, wildlife experts condemned the act and said he likely separated the rabbit from a litter of young. 

But on Friday, Gonzalez insisted this was not the case and that he in fact saved the whole ‘rabbit family’. The procession was not caught on video.

‘I saw two other rabbits with it. I thought to myself it was the rabbit’s family. 

‘The rabbit’s family probably thought I was gonna hurt it [but] when I picked up the rabbit, they followed,’ he said.  

Gonzalez was filmed on Wednesday jumping up and down as the animal ran around him 

Gonzalez was filmed on Wednesday jumping up and down as the animal ran around him 

Gonzalez then took it to the other side of the highway and set it free again before getting back in his car. ‘I quickly picked the rabbit up and walked to the other side where there wasn’t fire,’ he said.   

Many celebrated his efforts but wildlife experts were not among them.

They said Gonzalez put himself and others at great risk by walking towards the fire and that the rabbit, as a wild animal, knew instinctively how to survive without his intervening.

Rabbits are among the wild animals which are most likely to survive wildfires because they normally burrow from the flames.  

Desert cottontail rabbits, which are common in Southern in California, typically give birth to young around this time of year.   

Since the fires took hold earlier this week, experts have warned residents not to get in the way of any wild animals in the area.  

‘If you encounter a wild animal in our neighborhood, leave it alone.  

‘Fire or no fire, just let the animals be. Fire is something animals have to deal with constantly,’ California Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Peter Tira advised.  

Among those who praised Gonzalez before he was identified was Ellen DeGeneres. 

‘To everyone who, in the chaos of these fires, is taking time to look out for animals, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,’ she said on Instagram along with a link to the video. 

While Gonzalez’s home is not in the fires’ path, 230,000 people have fled their houses in the region. 

There are now six fires burning in the region with no near end to the chaos in sight.