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Our Tiny Friend of Savanna’s Shrubland: The Riverine Rabbit

With only a few hundred left in the wild, this is one of the rarest tiny mammals in the Savanna! Let us introduce you to our pocket-sized pal, the Riverine rabbit! 

(source: https://www.endangeredwildlife.org/wildlife/riverine-rabbit/)

The Riverine rabbit, also known as the “bushman rabbit,” is an earthy brown color with deep hazel stripes running along its bottom jawline and snowy rings around its bulging eye. Its belly is a lighter tan, and its tail is poofy and brown without markings. Their coloration allows them to camouflage themselves. As you can see from the pictures above, it blends in well with the arid landscape. 

This bushman rabbit is currently one of the most endangered mammals globally, with only 200 adults left with recent population estimates! If you are lucky, you can spot them when you visit the central and southern regions of the Karoo Desert in the Northern Cape, South Africa. 

 

Their delightful dens

They are Africa’s only indigenous burrowing rabbit and rely on deep, soft alluvial soils. Riverine rabbits are found in dense riverine shrubbery along seasonal rivers in the semi-arid central Karoo. As the name implies, the Riverine rabbit loves to live in river basins and specific shrubland where the pliable soil allows it to dig large burrows for shelter. These loveable rabbits are nocturnal creatures and prefer to hide beneath scrapes of shrubs during the day. 

 

Fecal food: not exactly to everyone’s taste

They feed on dense shrubland and love riparian vegetation that can easily be found along rivers. This includes plants that thrive in salty environments such as Salsola and Lycium. During the wet season, they consume lush, succulent grass.

Just like other rabbit species, they eat their daytime droppings (gross, I know!). However, there is logic to their madness; these droppings contain more protein and vitamins than ordinary ones! So, by eating these together with a nutritious diet, the Riverine rabbit gets all of the necessary nutrients to stay fit and healthy. 

 

At it like rabbits!

Although they are solitary when hunting for food, they are polygamous in their relationships. They have intrasexual exclusive home ranges; the males’ home ranges slightly overlap with several females. It’s the only species of African rabbit that gives birth underground. The helpless offspring live with their mother until they are old enough to fend for themselves. The low breeding rate of only one child per year, uncommon among rabbits, has led to particular concerns regarding their endangered status. 

(source: https://www.endangeredwildlife.org/wildlife/riverine-rabbit/)

 

The threats they face

The inbreeding due to low population numbers, habitat shrinkage combined with limited habitat and food sources makes them endangered. Habitat degradation is of significant risk to this species; they have lost more than two-thirds of their habitat over this past century! The removal of natural vegetation along rivers and streams for agricultural purposes due to the fertile alluvial topsoil prevents rabbits from building stable breeding burrows. Overgrazing of domestic herbivores also causes degradation and fragmentation of land. These environmental changes are reducing their chances of survival. 

According to the IUCN Red List, only around 200 of these critically endangered species exist in the wild today; this population number is decreasing every year! Rabbits have not traditionally received much attention in Africa. I mean, who cares about rabbits when the glorious lion is vulnerable, right? However, this is now a code red situation, and more conservation efforts need to be concentrated on preserving these populations.

Wildchain is one of many innovative tools that can help reduce endangered species’ decline; when you become a digital conservationist, you adopt these loveable rabbits and other wildlife from the African Savanna to help conserve unique species! Visit our website and follow social media for more information and game character reveal. 

 

Author: Kunthada Suwan

Editor: Yasmin Humble

Cover: Tern Taweesuk