Camera traps have been set up to assist in counting the elusive Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis). The rabbit is also known as the Bushman Rabbit or Bushman Hare and 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.
Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Riverine Rabbit Programme (EWT-RRP) aims to protect the critically endangered Riverine Rabbit. During March this year the EWT planned to set up set up 30 camera traps in a 300ha site. A scientific method was used to determine the number of rabbits in the habitat. In four nights 17 images of rabbits were captured. In a survey to count the population, the EWT employed about 15 people to scare the rabbits from the bush, but it wasn't a very effective method.
Although the EWT concedes on its website that it may the same rabbit photographed multiple times, the results show that rabbits are in the area and a more detailed survey will be taken. "This is a method we can use to detect presence, at the very least, of rabbits. Now, I'm in the middle of a trial where I'm trying to use these traps to estimate density of the rabbits. We’re going to start getting sponsorship for more cameras, and we're going to start shifting them around the habitat.“ Said Christy Bragg, Riverine Rabbit Programme Manager at EWT.
"The hard thing about the rabbit is that it's very difficult to find it and to detect how many there are as they are extremely shy.” says Bragg. “For the public to empathize with the rabbit they often have to see it for themselves, or at least see more images of it. So this is the nice thing about a camera trap trial. We're going to have lots more images so we can start to get people to envision in their mind what these rabbits look like."
The EWT-RRP was established in August 2003 and coordinates all conservation efforts on the Critically Endangered Riverine Rabbit and its habitat. The programme is one of the few non-governmental conservation organizations operating in the Nama and Succulent Karoo and plays a critical role in conservation, as well as in the socio-economic upliftment of Karoo 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.
The public can sponsor cameras for the EWT. And with a unique user name and password, a user can check the images captured by the camera.
For more information on the EWT-RRP go to www.ewt.org.za