(Other Names: Boshaas, Buschmannhase, Bushman Rabbit or Hare, Deelfontein Hare, Doekvoetjie, Pondhaas, River Hare, Vleihaas)
Bunolagus monticularis (Lepus m.)
Status: Critically Endangered
1. Profile (Picture)
The riverine rabbit weighs up to 1.9 kg (4.2 lb). Distinguishing marks include a distinctive white ring around each eye and a black stripe running from the corner of its mouth over its cheek. Found in dense riverine scrub along the seasonal rivers in the central Karoo Desert in the Cape Province of South Africa, its diet mainly consists of flowers and leaves; grasses are included in the wet season. These rabbits are nocturnal and solitary, with a polygamous mating system and an unusually low breeding rate (for a rabbit).
The riverine rabbit is endemic to the central Karoo
Desert of South Africa's Cape Province. It was seen
several times between 1902 and 1948, but it was then not seen again until 1979. Surveys in
1989 suggested that it survived only in the dense, discontinuous vegetation in the
districts of Victoria West, Beaufort West and Frazerburg, an area of approximately 86 sq
km (33 sq mi). As of 2001, it was thought to occur in river catchments in the semi-arid south central Karoo
between Beaufort West and Williston, and Sutherland and Victoria West. It
is found only on private farmland in riverine vegetation
along seasonal river courses.
*** The riverine rabbit is one of the world's rarest mammals.
*** The riverine rabbit has an unusually low (for rabbits) breeding rate of only 1-2 young/year.
*** Rabbits have traditionally not received much attention in Africa. The riverine rabbit has been a notable exception. Conservation efforts by the Wildlife Society of Southern Africa and the South African Nature Foundation, in concert with research activities, have done much to draw attention to its plight. A number of governmental and non-governmental organizations have joined together in the Riverine Rabbit Conservation Project to carry out important conservation work.
*** A riverine rabbit awareness program among the farmers of the central Karoo has been instituted. Since the rabbit is found only on privately owned farms, its survival depends on the willingness of landowners to adopt farming methods to reduce over-grazing and other harmful practices in the sensitive riverine habitat. Some Karoo farmers have declared their farms Natural Heritage Sites to protect the riverine habitat and rabbit. (Collins 2001, Yeld 1999)
*** Rabbits (belonging to many different genera) vs. Hares (all in the genus Lepus): The major differences between rabbits and hares include: 1.) their methods in avoiding predators (rabbits hide in dense vegetation or burrows; hares have longer legs and try to outrun predators), and 2.) the characteristics of their young at birth (newborn rabbits ("kittens") are born naked and with their eyes closed; newborn hares ("leverets") are better developed - their eyes are open and they can move around with some degree of coordination) (Macdonald 2001).
The riverine rabbit first became known to Western science in 1902. It is endemic to the central Karoo Desert (31 deg 22 min South, 22 deg East) of South Africa's Cape Province. It was seen several times between 1902 and 1948, but it was then not seen again until 1979. In 1987 it was reported to occur around the Rhinoceros and Fish Rivers of the Karoo in two separate populations: near Calvinia and near Deelfontein. Surveys in 1989 suggested that it survived only in the dense, discontinuous vegetation in the districts of Victoria West, Beaufort West and Frazerburg, an area of approximately 86 sq km (33 sq mi).
As of 2001, it was thought to occur in river catchments in the semi-arid south central Karoo between Beaufort West and Williston, and Sutherland and Victoria West. It is found only on private farmland in riverine vegetation along seasonal river courses. (Ahlmann 2001, Cape Nature Conservation)
Habitat loss due to conversion to agriculture has been the major threat to the riverine rabbit. The alluvial floodplain soil of its habitat is very good for cultivation compared with other soils found in the dry Karoo. A recent calculation from aerial photographs of the central Karoo indicates that, in the region where the rabbit has occurred, upwards of 60% of the original riparian vegetation has been converted to cultivation. The conversion has been attributed to a now largely defunct scheme to cultivate wheat on the banks of the rivers in the region which, by 1950, had failed due to lack of irrigation water. While the extent of habitat loss is significant it is currently static. (Chapman & Flux 1990, Collins 2001)
Other threats include: habitat loss due to firewood collecting and heavy grazing pressure by sheep, traditional hunting with dogs, predation from uncontrolled dogs roaming in the veldt, mortality due to traps such as the serrated steel-jawed gin trap, and construction of dams which dry up the rivers. (Ahlmann 2001, 2002)
African Mammals Databank 2004, Ahlmann 2001, Ahlmann 2002, Avery 1988, Burton & Pearson 1987, Chapman & Flux 1990, Collins 2001, Collins et al./IUCN 2003a, Flux 2005, IUCN 2004, Cons. Intl., Focus 1995b, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, Kingdon 1997, Macdonald 1984, Macdonald 2001, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Riverine Rabbit Cons. Proj., Silva & Downing 1994, Spec. Cons. Found., Stuart & Stuart 1996, WWF Wild World, Yeld 1999
Last modified: June 18, 2006;