Drylands Conservation Programme

The Drylands Conservation Programme (EWT-DCP) was established in August 2003 and coordinates all conservation efforts on the Critically Endangered Riverine Rabbit Bunolagus monticularis and its habitat. The programme is one of the few non-governmental conservation organizations operating in the Great and Klein Karoo region (Nama and Succulent Karoo) and plays a critical role in conservation, as well as in the socio-economic upliftment of Karoo communities. The Riverine Rabbit is endemic to the semi-arid Great Karoo and parts of the Klein Karoo of South Africa and is one of the most endangered terrestrial mammals of Africa. It has been estimated that there are only a few hundred Riverine Rabbits left in the wild today, the species is facing an extremely high risk of extinction and needs the dedication and commitment of the EWT-DCP and its partners.

The mission is to maintain ecosystem conditions in the Karoo that can support a stable population of Riverine Rabbits along seasonal river courses, whilst simultaneously ensuring socio-economic benefits to landowners and communities. The programme aims to conserve the biodiversity of the Karoo region, to encourage private landowners to participate in conservation stewardship and to promote integrated land management practices that can sustain the Riverine Rabbit, its habitat and many other species while providing employment for communities and facilitating ecosystem restoration on landowners farms.

Conservation status of the Riverine Rabbit

The Riverine Rabbit is one of southern Africa's most threatened mammals and was re-assessed and upgraded from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2002. The species is listed as such in the new edition of the Red Data Book of the Mammals of South Africa (2004). In the eighties it was suggested that the remaining suitable habitat might, theoretically, support a maximum of 1435 rabbits but based on life history parameters, the species’ assessment in 2002 suggested that the population size might not be much more than a few hundred animals. However, new isolated populations have since been found (in 2003) in the Western Cape near Barrydale, Montagu, Touwsrivier, Klaarstroom and Prince Albert.  At present, no accurate data on the species’ population size are available, but the EWT-DCP is trialing new innovative methodology to start assessing the demography of this rare, elusive species. None of the Riverine Rabbit habitat is protected within a provincial nature reserve or national park and the species only occurs on private Karoo farmland or private reserves, such as Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.

Distribution range, habitat and threats of the Riverine Rabbit

The Riverine Rabbit is endemic to the semi-arid Great Karoo and parts of the Klein Karoo region of South Africa. The Riverine Rabbit functions as the flagship species as well as a key indicator species for the river ecosystems of the Karoo as its regional extinction in many areas of its former natural distribution range is indicative of the degraded status of the riverbanks along the perennial Karoo rivers.

How to distinguish a Riverine Rabbit from other South African (Lagomorphs)

Rabbits and hares belong to the order Lagomorpha and to the family Leporidae. In the Karoo there are two hare species, the Cape Hare Lepus capensis and Scrub Hare Lepus saxatilis and two rabbit species, the Hewitt's Red Rock Rabbit Pronolagus saundersiae and the Riverine Rabbit Bunolagus monticularis. The differences between rabbits and hares are as follows: rabbits are born blind, hairless and immobile and are therefore totally dependent on their mother after birth. Hare offspring are born with open eyes, fully furred and active within 48h after birth.
The Riverine Rabbit (scientific name: Bunolagus monticularis; Afrikaans: Oewerkonyn, Doekvoetjie, Vleihaas, Boshaas; historical name: Pondhaas) has the following distinguishing features:

  • dark brown stripe along the lower jaw towards the ear base
  • white eye-ring
  • red-brown nuchal patch behind ears
  • long ears
  • upperparts dark brown and black flecked
  • underparts light brown (no white)
  • uniformly brown tail
  • Please read more to find out further ways to distinguish between rabbits and hares click

How can you assist the EWT-DCP in saving the Riverine Rabbit from extinction?

  • Please contact us if you see a Riverine Rabbit or you thought you saw one. It would be important to us to receive detailed information from you on date, time and locality of your sighting.
  • Should you find a carcass of a Riverine Rabbit in the veld or perhaps on the back roads of the Karoo please keep it refrigerated (don’t freeze it) and contact us immediately. We need any sample of the species we can get for our genetic analyses. (But please do not kill any rabbit for this purpose).
  • Please help us to increase awareness on this unique mammal and its threatened habitat in South Africa by informing your family, friends and colleagues.
  • Please consider supporting us financially – even a small donation goes a long way. See the EWT homepage to find out how to make a contribution through our GivenGain webpage