Rabbit indicates environment damage

2012-11-14 11:30
The Riverine Rabbit is endemic to SA and critically endangered. (Eric Herrmann)

The Riverine Rabbit is endemic to SA and critically endangered. (Eric Herrmann)

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Cape Town - Humans have a direct responsibility to protect the environment, especially when habitats have been destroyed by mankind, an environmental organisation has insisted.

"Nature isn't about survival of the fittest when humans have come in and destroyed most of the habitat. So we have an obligation to save every species," Christie Bragg, Riverine Rabbit programme manager at the Endangered Wildlife Trust told News24.

The EWT runs a programme to protect the critically endangered Riverine Rabbit and its habitat in the Karoo, and Bragg said that the rabbit was an environmental health indicator.

"Through the Riverine Rabbit programme, we're actually using the rabbit as a flagship. The rabbit is an indicator of good veld condition."

The Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is critically endangered and only occurs near river areas in the Karoo. Because of unchecked land use in the past, much of the rabbit's habitat has been destroyed.

Ambition

"If you save the rabbit and you're protecting its habitat in that area, you're not only protecting the rabbit, you're protecting all the communities of plants, of insects, of other biodiversity and, through our rehabilitation programme, we're actually provisioning ecosystem services," said Bragg.

The EWT works to restore ecosystems in Riverine areas which has a direct benefit for people, Bragg asserted.

"If you keep your ecosystems services sustainably healthy and functioning, you're not only protecting biodiversity, you're also protecting humans from climate change impacts."

The programme has broad ambition to conserve the habitat and the EWT employs locals to run a nursery for Karoo shrubs which are then transplanted into the Riverine habitat.

Farmers are central to the strategy to protect the rabbit, as the species occurs on private farmland.

"Because the rabbit only occurs on farmland, we work very closely with farmers - we've been in the Loxton community for more than 10 years now. Our stewardship programme is specifically aimed at working with farmers, providing incentives to them for managing their Riverine Rabbit habitats sustainably," Bragg said.

There is about 350 000ha in farmland conservancies where farmers are working to protect rabbits, she added.

Empathy

Despite the efforts, the main threat to the rabbit is through loss of habitat through cultivation of the sensitive areas, rather than feral dogs, which are common to rural towns.

"The main threat is habitat loss through cultivation," said Bragg.

She conceded that it was difficult for the public to have empathy for the rabbits because they were so reclusive and even in the environment, it took Bragg eight months before she saw her first Riverine Rabbit in the wild.

"For the public to empathise with the rabbit they often have to see it for themselves, or at least see more images of it. So this is the nice thing about a camera trap trial - we're going to have lots more images so we can start to get people to envision in their mind what these rabbits look like."


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