RIVERINE RABBITS

Bunolagus monticularis

Photo by www.bionerds.co.za

RIVERINE RABBIT

GET INVOLVED in sustaining the ongoing work around the Riverine rabbit.

DONATE NOW

Riverine rabbits are critically endangered, elusive and nocturnal

It’s estimated that just 250 adults remain, scattered across the vast swathe of the Great and Little Karoo. They’re endemic to South Africa but are also one of the most difficult mammals to see in the wild, and to conserve. Sanbona is one of the few protected areas with a confirmed population of riverine rabbits, so if you are going to see one of these rare creatures it will likely be here – on a windless, new moon night.

Recorded in the Little Karoo

First discovered in the Nama Karoo in 1901, riverine rabbits were only recorded in the Little Karoo in 2003 near Touws River, and the most eastern population was found in 2018 near Uniondale. But in 2006, five of these shy creatures were unexpectedly seen in the Renosterveld southern section of Sanbona. Their existence on the reserve makes Sanbona a major role player in their conservation, as over 60% of riverine rabbit habitat has been lost in the past 70 years. Very little viable territory remains for them in their endemic range of the semi-arid central and Little Karoo.

Photo by www.bionerds.co.za

Strikingly beautiful

With their reddish brown coats and extremely long ears, riverine rabbits are strikingly beautiful. Their white eye rings and the black stripes marking their lower jaw distinguish them from all other rabbits and hares. These shy rabbits have been seen in two widespread camera trapping studies completed on Sanbona.

Habitat requirements 

The habitat requirements of riverine rabbits in the Nama Karoo are well understood, but much less so for the Little Karoo population. In the Nama Karoo, they live on the narrow strips of dense shrubs that grow along the rivers where they feel protected and can dig their burrows. But, in the Little Karoo they are found in both the Succulent Karoo and Renosterveld, which is a diverse area sans rivers. So the first step is to understand what ideal riverine rabbit habitat entails in their Little Karoo territory. 

IN ORDER TO SEE where these rabbits occur, camera traps along with sightings and the location of faecal deposits give good clues. However, since sightings skew data as the animals are spotted from vehicles, camera traps have replaced this method of data collection. Sanbona has 30 cameras which only cover a small portion of the vast reserve, so these cameras are rotated across the reserve every four to six weeks. Aside from showing their preferred habitat, it’s hoped the data will also reveal other activities and the influence of other species and predators on the rabbits. These animals are also reliable indicators of a healthy environment, so collated information could influence land management practices in the future.

In conjunction with the cameras, correctly identified faecal samples could assist in showing spatial use as well as feeding behaviour. Certain stress hormones can also be measured from these samples to give insight into behaviour, reproduction and ultimately their long-term survival. Research on hormones found in faeces is currently being done in the Renosterveld southern section of Sanbona, and the Succulent Karoo will also need to be researched in the future – a total area of about 30 000 ha.

 

Reverine Rabbit faeces | Photo by Dennis Umesiobi

Reverine Rabbit faeces | Photo by Dennis Umesiobi

Researcher Dennis Umesiobi

Researcher Dennis Umesiobi

conserving these
very rare rabbits 

Sanbona is the only area that is monitoring riverine rabbits on a large scale, and the information being collected is now driving research on the species. Various conservation organisations have recognised the outstanding work of Sanbona on riverine rabbits, and researchers from far and wide continue to visit the reserve to contribute to the goal of conserving these very rare rabbits that only come out at night under gentle moonlight.

Camera trap set up | Photo by Liesl Vorster

Camera trap footage at night