Humans have a direct responsibility to protect the environment, especially when habitats have been destroyed by mankind says the Endagered Wildlife Trust (EWT), an Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) dedicated to conserving threatened species and ecosystems in southern Africa to the benefit of all people.
The EWT runs a programme to protect the critically endangered Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) and its habitat in the Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo. According to Christy Bragg, Riverine Rabbit programme manager at the EWT, the Riverine Rabbit is an environmental health indicator. Through the Riverine Rabbit programme, EWT is using the rabbit as a flagship species. "Nature isn't about survival of the fittest when humans have come in and destroyed most of the habitat. So we have an obligation to save every species," says Bragg.
"If you save the rabbit and you're protecting its habitat in that area, you're protecting all the communities of plants, insects, and other biodiversity. It is through our rehabilitation programme that we are provisioning ecosystem services," said Bragg. "If you keep your ecosystems services sustainably healthy and functioning, you're not only protecting biodiversity, you're also protecting humans from climate change impacts."
The rabbit is an indicator of good veld condition. Due to unchecked land use practices in the past, much of the rabbit's habitat has been destroyed. The programme has broad ambition to conserve the habitat of the Riverine Rabbit. EWT employs locals to run a nursery for Karoo shrubs which are then transplanted into the Riverine habitat. Farmers are central to the strategy to protect the rabbit, as the species occurs on private farmland.
"Because the rabbit only occurs on farmland, we work very closely with farmers and have been working in the Loxton community for more than ten years now. Our stewardship programme is specifically aimed at working with farmers, and providing incentives to them for managing their Riverine Rabbit habitats sustainably," Bragg said. There are approximately 350 000ha in farmland conservancies where farmers are working to protect rabbits, she added.
Despite the efforts, the main threat to the rabbit is through loss of habitat through cultivation of the sensitive areas, rather than feral dogs, which are common to rural towns.
For more information go to www.ewt.org.za