STRIDES IN PROTECTING RIVERINE RABBIT HABITAT

Cobus Theron, Manager, EWT Drylands Conservation Programme
CobusT@ewt.org.za

The EWT is making headway in formally protecting Riverine Rabbits through working with private landowners in the southern population of this Critically Endangered species. Though collaboration with CapeNature and private landowners, we are facilitating the process of declaring three privately owned farms totaling 11,500 hectares as Nature Reserves under the Provincial Biodiversity Stewardship Programme.

The latter is a formal process that is enabled by biodiversity legislation that allows provincial authorities and private landowners to enter into voluntary agreements to create formal protection for their farms. This means that these farms will be declared as formal nature reserves and have the same status as provincial or even national nature reserves.

All three farms are situated in the vicinity of the Anysberg Nature Reserve in the Western Cape and all three farms have Riverine Rabbit presence confirmed.  We hope that the addition of these properties to the conservation network will enhance habitat and range protection for the Riverine Rabbits in the southern population.

The southern population was only discovered in 2003. Compared to the northern population, individuals in the south are less restricted to the riparian areas and use the habitat more widely. While the EWT conducted some research on the southern population after its discovery, it only started to take concrete conservation action for this population in 2017, when it started to develop capacity to operate in this geographic space. We have developed a novel strategy for the conservation of the species in the northern population which will be implemented in 2020, and we will also start detailed investigations into the Baviaanskloof population this year to inform our conservation approach there.

We are very pleased that CapeNature has confirmed that all three properties qualify as Nature Reserves and we will now start to develop management plans for each farm in consultation with the landowners as is required by law and further pursue the declaration process.

Our aim is to create formal protection or enhanced land management (for the benefit of the species) in both the northern, southern and recently confirmed Baviaanskloof population by 2023. Since the vast majority of the species range is on privately owned land, we cannot achieve this goal without the help of landowners and farmers.

This ambitious goal is supported by the Rand Merchant Bank, The Global Environmental Fund (implemented by the United Nations Development Programme and the Department of Environmental Affairs), the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations and a private donor.