Race to save unique SA rabbits

2011-06-10 13:02
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 - Endangered rabbits endemic to the Karoo have been given a boost with a donation from Lindt to the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Riverine Rabbit Programme.

The rabbits are critically endangered and seem to rebuff the cliché of "breeding like rabbits".

"They only produce one young each year. They have a very slow generation time, in terms of increasing their numbers," Christine Mentzel conservation manager for the Endangered Wildlife Trust told News24.

Lindt donated R250 000 to coincide with Environment Week in an effort to save the elusive rabbit and its habitat.

"The problem is really more fragmentation of habitat, loss of habitat, and potentially other threats like hunting with dogs, road kill to some degree as well," said Menzel.

Habitat conservation

The Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) occurs near rivers and habitat conservation is important because the animal relies on the vegetation near rivers or riverbeds to survive.

"It doesn't have to be flowing rivers so it's the riparian zones and the soils and vegetation that goes with those soils that important for their habitat," Mentzel said.

The Endangered Wildlife trust believes that it is important to protect these rabbits as they also are an indicator of the health of the environment and farmers in the area generally support projects to conserve the riparian zones.

"They are endemic to South Africa, they are critically endangered, which means at the moment we suspect there are less than a thousand individuals left.

"If we as South Africans don't look after them, nobody else is going to and they go extinct," warned Mentzel.

She said the programme at the moment was not looking at re-introducing the rabbit, but rather focussing on its habitat. In 2004, a new population was discovered.

"At the moment we're not looking at re-introduction, what is very exciting is that since about 2004 we've discovered that there is another population in the Touwsrivier, Barrydale area of the Little Karoo."

Survey

Before this discovery, the main focus of the programme was in the Loxton to Fraserburg area, and only a few animals were identified.

"The estimate for that northern population is around 300 animals - it's very hard to get a definitive figure - but that's what we suspect at the moment."

The organisation hopes to use the money to survey the total number of rabbits in the newly discovered population in order to best decide what can be done.

"One of the things we'd like to do with the donation that Lindt has made to the Endangered Wildlife Trust is to do a structured survey of that southern area to get a better handle of the population in that area and to determine what needs to be done," said Mentzel.

The organisation is currently involved with a rehabilitation project to link fragmented habitats that will hopefully allow the rabbits to move between areas and breed in greater numbers.

"The main threat is around habitat fragmentation and degradation. So one of the big projects we have currently running is the riparian rehabilitation project which aims to rehabilitate that riparian zone along those river courses to try and connect habitat," she said.

The public can "adopt" a rabbit on the Endangered Wildlife Trust website.


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Read more on:    endangered wildlife trust  |  animals
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