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What Is a Riverine Rabbit?

Cindy Quarters
Cindy Quarters

The riverine rabbit, Bunolagus monticularis, is a species of rabbit that is native to the Karoo region of South Africa, at the southern tip of the continent. Males weigh about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) and females are slightly larger, weighing about 4 pounds (1.8 kg). Riverine rabbits are brown, with a fluffy brown tail, creamy belly and throat fur, and a noticeable black stripe that runs from the corner of the mouth across the cheek to the back of the head. These critically endangered rabbits are nocturnal, coming out at night to eat a varied diet consisting of native flowers and grasses, then hiding under bushes during the day, avoiding both heat and predators as much as possible.

One of the main reasons the riverine rabbit is endangered is the loss of habitat. A large portion of its natural territory has been converted from native plants to cultivated land, making it harder for the rabbit to find suitable food and shelter. Habitat has also been lost due to heavy grazing by sheep. In addition, these rabbits may fall prey to loose dogs and steel leg traps, both of which seriously injure and kill many rabbits each year. Efforts are being made to save the riverine rabbit, through organizations such as the Riverine Rabbit Conservation Project.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Riverine Rabbit Conservation project is made up of many groups, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust Riverine Rabbit Working Group, South African National Parks, various Conservancy members, Western and Northern Cape nature conservation departments, and several universities in South Africa. All of these, as well as many others, are working together to preserve the riverine rabbit and its essential habitat. A group of riverine rabbits are also being bred in captivity with the ultimate goal of reintroducing them into native areas where they no longer exist naturally.

Saving the endangered riverine rabbit is a difficult, but not impossible, task. Farmers are banding with neighbors to form conservancies, areas that work together to protect wildlife, and much of the habitat destruction has ceased, though the native plants will need many years to fill in the areas of destruction. As the land begins to heal and captive rabbits are released into the wild, there is hope that the critically endangered riverine rabbit population can be brought back from the edge of disaster and these rabbits can once again freely roam the Karoo region.

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