29) RIVERINE RABBIT
Commonly known as the vleihaas, boshaas, doekvoetjie or pondhaas,
the riverine rabbit is found only in the riverine scrub of the
central Karoo. The first two names arose from its occurrence in
the relatively moist and dense habitat along the seasonal rivers
of the area. "Doekvoetjie" refers to the broad hind paws which
are furred underfoot. During the 1940s the curator of the
Kaffrarian Museum offered a pound for each riverine rabbit
brought to him, hence the name "pondhaas".
The attractive riverine rabbit is easily identified by the black
stripe running from the corner of its mouth over its cheek, a
brown woolly tail, creamy fur on its belly and throat, and a
broad, club-like hind foot. In the field hares can be
distinguished from rabbits by their black and white tails. The
tails of rabbits are usually uniformly coloured. Male riverine
rabbits weigh approximately 1,5 kg and females 1,8 kg.
HABITS AND FEEDING
Riverine rabbits feed on their favourite foods, the boegoe bush
and ink bush at night, and rest up in forms during the day. A
form is a shallow scrape made in the soil under a bush. Two
types of droppings are produced. At night, when the rabbit is
active, hard pellets are deposited. During the day droppings are
soft, taken directly from the anus, and swallowed. In this way
the riverine rabbit obtains vitamin B, produced by bacteria in
the hind gut, and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus are
The riverine rabbit is an endangered species, i.e. it is in
danger of extinction and its survival is unlikely if the factors
causing the decline remain in effect. The most devastating threat
to the riverine rabbit is the loss of its habitat. This habitat
is limited to the alluvial floodplains of seasonal rivers in the
central Karoo. These flood plains, only 100 - 200 m wide, are
formed when the rivers overflow during floods, and deposit silt
on their banks. This soil is very good for cultivation compared
with other soils found in the dry Karoo. Over the past 50 years
over two-thirds of the riverine rabbit's habitat has been
ploughed over for this purpose. Other threats to the riverine
rabbit's survival include overgrazing and hunting. Overgrazing
of riverine habitat opens up cover that the rabbit needs for
shelter and to escape predation.
The only way to secure the long term survival of a species is to
protect its natural habitat. Some Karoo farmers have declared
their farms Natural Heritage Sites to protect the riverine
habitat and rabbit. The Dept. of Environment and Cultural Affairs
(previously Cape Nature Conservation) encourages farmers to form
conservancies for the same purpose (a conservancy is a number of
adjacent farms on which landowners cooperate with each other to
Leaving the riverine habitat intact has advantages for both the
farmers and the riverine rabbit. The Karoo experiences frequent
Enough rain for cultivation falls during only a few years every
decade. It would be more productive in the long-term to use the
riverine habitat for grazing rather than to reap the short-lived
benefit of ploughing it for cultivation.
Riverine vegetation also binds the soil, preventing it from being
washed away in floods and promotes filtration of rainwater to
groundwater - another benefit for the farmer who uses windmills
to draw up water for his livestock.
A captive breeding colony is run at the De Wildt Cheetah Research
Station, outside Pretoria. Plans are afoot to reintroduce rabbits
bred in this colony to suitable habitat where they no longer
DID YOU KNOW?
* The riverine rabbit is found only in the central Karoo and
nowhere else in the entire world! This means that the rabbit is
endemic to this area.
* South Africa has two hare species, the Cape hare and the scrub
hare, and four rabbit species. These are the Natal rabbit,
Smith's rabbit, Jameson's red rock rabbit, and the riverine
* South African rabbits and hares produce 1 - 3 young per
litter. The further away from the equator rabbit and hare species
occur, the larger their litter sizes. For example, Alaskan
snowshoe hares have seven young per litter.
* A male rabbit is called a buck and a female a doe.
MAMMALS OF THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN SUBREGION.
J.D. Skinner & R.H.N. Smithers. University of Pretoria. 1990.
HARES AND RABBITS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA - A POSTER.
Wildlife Society of Southern Africa, address below.
THE ENDANGERED RIVERINE RABBIT - A RESEARCH UPDATE.
A. Duthie. African Wildlife, Vol. 41, No. 4, 1987.
VELORE HABITATTE - VELORE DIERE.
A. Duthie. Toktokkie, Vol. 9, No.6, 1987.
LAND MAMMALS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA: A FIELD GUIDE.
R.H.N. Smithers. Southern Books, Johannesburg, 1986.
All books available from Russel Friedman Books, PO Box 73,
Halfway House, 1685. Tel. 011-7022300/1.
Wildlife Society of Southern Africa.
Head Office, P O Box 44344, Linden, 2104. Tel. 011-486 3294/5 or
0938. Branches nation wide.
Dept. Environment and Cultural Affairs (previously Cape Nature
P/Bag X9086, Cape Town, 8000. Tel. 021-483 4227. For more
information about conservancies.
Mammal Research Institute.
University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 0002. Tel. 012-4202066.
Natal Parks Board.
P O Box 662, Pietermaritzburg, 3200. Tel. 0331-471961. For more
information about conservancies.
Dept. of Environment Affairs and Tourism.
P/Bag X447, Pretoria, 0001. Tel. 012-310 3425. For more
information on Natural Heritage Sites.