Conservation catchups from the Karoo

Riverine Rabbit conservation Anysberg

There are few undiscovered natural gems left out there. The Anysberg area is truly one of the most exciting and largely undiscovered gems in South Africa. It is also at the forefront of Riverine Rabbit conservation in the Karoo, South Africa.

Hidden in the golden sands of time

In 2021, a group of intrepid explorers from the Endangered Wildlife Trust embarked on a quest through the drylands of the Northern Cape to find something far more precious than gold.

Crouching rocks, hidden rabbits

Wetlands in Uganda’s Kigezi region are under increasing pressure from the growing human population in need of fertile farmland. Poor agricultural practices in upland areas have led to soil exhaustion and degradation, thus resulting in reduced yields and harvests.

Begging for bunnies

Why should we, as conservationists, be concerned about gender issues? If our mandate is species and habitat conservation, why and how do we incorporate gender without overstepping our mark?

Strides in protecting Riverine Rabbit habitat

The EWT is making headway in formally protecting Riverine Rabbits through working with private landowners in the southern population of this Critically Endangered species.

Finding gold in the dunes

The Drylands Conservation Programme, with the help of Samantha Mynhardt from the University of Pretoria, will be taking on the exciting task of trying to find one of the most elusive animals in South Africa! The Van Zyl’s Golden Mole is known from only two locations, with the last found in 2003. More than 17 years later, we are on a quest to find them again.

Unravelling the mysteries of Riverine Rabbit families

In another exciting first for conservation, the EWT has captured the first ever photographic evidence of Riverine Rabbit kits (babies) with their mother.

Deploying new techniques to track lost species

The hope of finding the De Winton’s Golden Mole is almost as transient as the mist that passes through the dunes of the West Coast.

Habitat study helps solve the puzzle

The EWT’s Drylands Conservation Programme recently joined forces with Dr Sue Milton, Karoo ecologist and botanist, to characterise Riverine Rabbit habitat in the Succulent Karoo and Renosterveld. Our aim is to understand the exact habitat requirements of Riverine Rabbits in the southern- and eastern populations.

Hide and seek champions

The Karoo is a vast and inspiring landscape. The extensive “rantjies” and “vlaktes” remind us that once there was a time when most of the earth was free of noise, pollution and human infrastructure. This seemingly harsh environment does however provide a home for many unique mammals, birds and reptiles. More often than not, the threatened and Endangered species of the Karoo are solitary, elusive and difficult to research and conserve.

April 2021

Esther Matthew, EWT Drylands Conservation Programme, Senior Field Officer, estherm@ewt.org.za

Thursday 15 April was another scorching Karoo day in Loxton, supposedly 30 degrees but felt closer to 40! It is a testament to the breathtaking landscape and biodiversity, and how much I love my job, that I live and work here even though I’m not a fan of hot weather (no pun intended)! After waking,  getting up and ready, I sneaked  Jessie the Border Collie a treat to make up for leaving her out of this field trip and walked to the EWT office for a cup of delicious Outliers coffee and to confirm the plans for the day. The Drylands Conservation Programme staff are excited about one of our latest Riverine Rabbit monitoring projects – a partnership with the University of Pretoria using eDNA to detect the presence of Riverine Rabbits and other mammals in the environments they live in. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a method that tests for the presence of DNA of an organism in the environment, and we are going to use this method to check for Riverine Rabbit presence by testing samples of soil! This project follows initial research we conducted, in collaboration with the Global Wildlife Conservation, using this method to detect DNA from Golden Mole species. Expanding the scope to other mammals such as Riverine Rabbits has been made possible through funding from Rand Merchant Bank. If the quality of the collected eDNA is good we may be able to also perform further genetic investigations which will allow us to compare Riverine Rabbits from different populations.

Two of our volunteers accompanied me on our first sampling mission for the project, targetting a farm near Loxton where we have confirmed Riverine Rabbit presence. We needed to collect soil samples from locations within the farm where we have recently recorded rabbit sightings to provide a reference sample of soil containing the DNA to use when testing samples from sites where their presence has not yet been confirmed.

In preparation for this mission, we had already put up six camera traps throughout the farm a month in advance and needed to check the cameras to see if, where, and when the elusive rabbits had been active. We walked seven very hot kilometres to visit all the sites…while trying to shake a large group of flies that had decided to tag along! We checked all the camera traps and collected soil samples from those sites in which rabbits had been caught on camera. We also collected a few samples from sites where the conditions were favourable for rabbits, and they were likely to occur but haven’t been recorded yet. While we were there, we saw a beautiful Kudu bull and not one but TWO Riverine Rabbits! If you’ve ever gone looking for these creatures, you will know that they are extremely rare and tricky to find, even in an area with previous confirmed sightings and, astonishingly, we were lucky enough to see two! It was one of the volunteers, Gail Thomson’s first sighting of the species, and with the second one, she was camera ready and managed to capture these photos of the second rabbit running through the dry riverbed.

All in all, a very successful and fulfilling day out for these EWTeam members! Stay tuned for more Conservation Catchups from the Karoo!

2021 © Endangered Wildlife Trust with help from the Artifact Team