Saving Riverine Rabbits one bossie at a time Article by Bonnie Schumann RRP Senior Field Officer

The Riverine Rabbit programme, based in Loxton in the Nama Karoo, has taken saving one of South Africa’s most unique endangered mammals to “grass roots level” by addressing the issue of habitat degradation, literally one Karoo bossie (bush) at a time. Besides being slow to reproduce and relatively short-lived, Riverine Rabbits are also habitat specialists, preferring the dense riparian vegetation found along the Karoo rivers. These riparian areas are also favoured by livestock, particularly during dry periods when they contain valuable fodder. This selective grazing pressure can result in overgrazing and the degradation of Karoo river systems.

Simply removing livestock from degraded areas in the Karoo often has very little effect as seed banks, as well as important components such as palatable species, are entirely absent. The soil is often compacted and its barren surface does not provide the conditions required for germination and seedling recruitment; thus reintroducing these species by simply sowing seeds in these areas is not a viable option.

Enter the Riverine Rabbit Programme’s Indigenous Karoo Plant Nursery in Loxton. Here a group of intrepid locals, led by veteran “bossie mother” Pop (Roos) van Schalkwyk sow and nurture a variety of Karoo bossies. These bossies are special in that they, just like the Riverine Rabbit, prefer Riparian areas. They are adapted to withstand extreme environmental conditions including flooding and even excessive saline levels.

Established in 2007, the purpose of this nursery is to propagate and supply a steady stream of seed and young bossies destined to repopulate degraded areas as part of the Riverine Rabbit Programme’s Habitat Rehabilitation project. Thus far four pilot sites have been established in degraded areas in cooperation with Karoo conservancy farmers. Rehabilitation methodologies are being investigated at the pilot sites in order to establish a protocol for rehabilitating degraded riparian areas. These areas require intensive and exhausting work to combat erosion, introduce organic matter and create micro-catchment areas where water and organic material can be trapped. This sets the stage for the re-establishment of the young bossies propagated at the nursery, as well as the germination of seed grown at the nursery and also collected in the veld. Rehabilitation of these areas ultimately aims at enhancing landscape connectivity by creating corridors that not only allow for species migration, but also climate change resilience.

The challenges facing Riverine Rabbit conservation are complex and often overwhelming; as such they require innovative approaches. Pop and her team are not daunted by the odds, they are simply saving Riverine Rabbits one bossie at a time.

Photo: 1. Hester de Wee, Johnny Arends and Pop (Roos) van Schalkwyk with their bosseis at the Riverine Rabbit Programme’s Indigenous Karoo Plant Nursery in Loxton.

2. Nursery staff hard at work planting bossies at a rehabilitation pilot site. Micro-catchments (hollows) are designed to retain water, slow the flow of water and trap organic material.

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About whittingtonjones

I’m Brendan Whittington-Jones, a Capetonian and a ginger – what a pearler of a combination! I manage the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s KZN Wild Dog Project in northern Zululand. The initial aim of the project was to answer research questions around what influenced where wild dogs moved when they dispersed out of protected areas, and what the attitudes of rural communities surrounding these protect areas are towards wild dogs. Over the years, the project has evolved to play a stronger management role in wild dog conservation in the province. I coordinate the KZN Wild Dog Management Group, where we focus on range expansion for the species, collective management of the species in the province and mitigation of potential wild dog conflict with landowners. One of the bonuses of my job is the opportunities I have to explore new reintroduction locations like Tembe, or track after dogs through parts of the region I’ve never seen before – although I would prefer it if the dogs did this in shorter stints rather than month-long treks.
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One Response to Saving Riverine Rabbits one bossie at a time Article by Bonnie Schumann RRP Senior Field Officer

  1. Jodi says:

    Really great to see the innovative work that RRP is doing. Glad to see that your initiative is also creating opportunities for the local community in Loxton.

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