I feel like a kid on Christmas Day – we are about to slot several small memory cards into the laptop to peruse their contents and I am holding my breath with anticipation. And why does this simple activity make me so excited? Because these memory cards have all the pictures taken by 15 remote digital cameras set up for several nights in Riverine Rabbit habitat. In fact (drum roll) on the very first night of our camera trapping experiment, one of the cameras captured a photograph of a Riverine Rabbit. I could not believe my eyes. For years we have struggled to count and photograph these rare and shy creatures and here was one staring me in the face after just one night using camera traps. But wait for it, on the second night the cameras were out, we caught TEN images of Riverine Rabbits. The third night we caught three images, and so on. Seventeen images in four nights, actually! And it’s not just the actual pictures of these rather appealing and winsome rabbits that makes me so happy – what really is exciting is that these results show that the camera traps have definite promise in being used as a very important conservation tool – a tool to get more accurate estimates of the rabbits’ population size and changes.
These camera images do not only give us an idea of about rabbit presence in a particular area, but also who they hang out with, what they eat, what eats them (we caught many images of African Wild Cat and even caracal), what time of night they are most active ….and guess what? Ninety percent of the photos taken of “nocturnal” Riverine Rabbits were captured after sunrise, even as late as 8:30am! These rabbits are still out and about enjoying the early rays of sunshine, posing for the cameras, in the bright hours of the morning. I am sure that the rabbit featured alongside was actually aware that I would soon be jumping for joy when I saw the picture of him staring into the camera lens!
We are indebted to Jeremy Bolton (www.trailcamadventures.blogspot.com) for lending his cameras to us for a week so we could test this camera trapping idea. He helped us set up all sorts of different types of cameras in all sorts of habitat conditions (in the depths of thorny scrub, on game paths, even on roads) and it was an eye-opening experience. We learnt a lot, but now comes the twist – we need our own camera traps! If we are to develop this method to its full potential, we need at least 100 camera traps in order to conduct a comprehensive census over the entire Riverine Rabbit distribution range. With 15 traps, we could survey the habitat of one population of rabbits; with 30 cameras we could survey new sites to locate previously unknown populations of rabbits; with 100 traps we could survey many different sites at the same time, across the range. So this is an early Easter call for Riverine Rabbit cameras. Please donate R2,700 for the purchase of a camera trap for the Riverine Rabbit Programme and we will establish a webpage for the perusal of your very own camera trap photographs! Donating a camera means you contribute to the conservation of this beautiful bunny whilst also getting to peruse from your lounge-chair what your very own Riverine Rabbit is doing that night. Whilst he munches on scrawny Karoo-bossies, you can munch your supper. Whilst this Critically Endangered rabbit delicately nibbles at mesembs to get some moisture, you can sip your wine. Take advantage of this opportunity to be part of the imminent unfolding of the dramatic discoveries awaiting within the Riverine Rabbit Programme!
May the Easter bunny come early this year! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in supporting our exciting camera trap study.