The Karoo’s Riverine Rabbit

Riverine Rabbit, Karoo, rivers
The more pet names an animal has, the more loved it is.

The riverine rabbit has more than its fair share: doekvoet, pondhaas, Bushman’s hare, Deelfontein hare, boshaas and vlei haas. And for science – Bunolagus monticularis.

This most beloved creature is the poster bunny for conservation. Experts say there may be no more than a few hundred left. Not only is the riverine rabbit critically endangered, it is found only in the Karoo.

In the few photos taken of it, a white ring around the eye and a distinctive black stripe stretching from mouth to cheek give it the air of a startled moustachioed matinee idol trapped in the spotlights wearing fluffy slippers.

Beloved, cute and rare, this rabbit has faced a constellation of challenges ever since agriculture started in the Karoo.

The Rarest Rabbit

Its fate is tied to that of seasonal river banks. It uses the rich silty soils for burrowing. This is also where its favourite foods of inkbush, buchu and other plants remain green for longer.

They are also usually the first areas to be degraded by grazing and crops. As the rich topsoil erodes away, so does its natural home.

Hunters, dogs, traps and general habitat destruction have pushed it to the brink.

And then there’s the third factor: riverine rabbits don’t breed like rabbits.

Since the species was discovered by a British trooper in 1901 at Deelfontein near Richmond, it has dipped in and out of human awareness, vanishing for decades at a time.

When the curator of the Kaffrarian Museum in King William’s Town offered a pound a specimen in the 1930s, they were refound, near Calvinia (and dubbed the pondhaas).

Healthy River Systems

The Endangered Wildlife Trust has set up the Drylands Conservation Programme in nearby Loxton which coordinates efforts to save this charming rabbit.

The programme works closely with farmers, helping to revegetate the dry banks so loved by this nocturnal, solitary bunny.

Its mere presence on a farm has become prestigious, the indicator of a healthy river ecosystem.

With so few riverine rabbits, years can pass before fieldworkers actually catch a glimpse of one, so it’s difficult to build up a picture of their habits.

Camera traps have changed all that. They are activated by motion and capture candid images of anything moving along Karoo riverbeds.

Some camera traps were placed at the privately-owned Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, only three hours’ drive from Cape Town. To everyone’s surprise, this 54 000 hectare reserve is home to several riverine rabbits.

Rabbit Habitat

The riverine rabbit’s range has been found to stretch far further south, in recent years, than its ‘traditional’ range around Williston, Fraserburg, Carnarvon, Victoria West and Loxton. Isolated populations have been detected around Montagu, Klaarstroom, Touwsrivier, Barrydale and Prince Albert.

The latest news is that a small population of them has also been found in Anysberg Nature Reserve near Laingsburg, and a few more as far east as the Baviaanskloof. This has caused great celebrations among conservationists.

14 thoughts on “The Karoo’s Riverine Rabbit

  1. Chris Konig says:

    I live outside Montagu . We have two Riverine Rabbits who appear early morning to drink from the water containers we leave for other wild animals eg Meerkatte , Porcupines ,Steenbokkies , Mountain Tortoises etc. With the drought , our “water holes ” have become a gathering place for wild life .

  2. Pingback: Artwork feature: Tankwa Hasie, Annie le Roux -

  3. Pingback: 10 endangered animals in South Africa and how you can help | Emdoneni Lodge

  4. Susan McCarthy says:

    Hallo. I absolute love what you have done here and on your facebook page for the Karoo. My family have a few farms close to Sutherland and I have recently been asked by a friend who bought a small farm near Laingsburg to post items of life in the Karoo on his Facebook page. Would you mind if I share some of your amazing stories. All credit will be provided with links through to your site and page. Would greatly appreciate it. Many thanks

  5. Graham Jones says:

    Good day. I am looking to get into contact with a Louise Punt Fouche who aparently had been very involved with the conservation of the endangered Riverine rabbit.(I am a sculptor from Gqeberha and will be doing a unique edition of a rabbit sculpture in cast iron).

    • Julienne du Toit says:

      Hi there
      You should definitely get hold of Bonnie Schumann of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Dryland Conservation Programme. There is no one who knows more about riverine rabbits, and she has many photographs. Contact her on

  6. Keith says:

    Please 🙏 get Woolworths together with Beacon to run a promotion to support the riverine rabbit as happened here in Australia for the Bilby.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.