Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Robben Island in crisis
Robben Island's natural
environment is in a state of crisis, with animals like bontebok, springbok,
fallow deer and rabbits starving to death because of a lack of vegetation on
this important World Heritage Site.Carcasses are lying in dry veld, where only inedible khakibos weeds are still
Environmentalists warned the
island's prestigious World Heritage Site status, previously threatened because
of the poor environmental management, could again come under review.
Although some mammals have been removed during the past year, there is not
enough suitable food on the island for those left behind. And while a rabbit
culling programme was initiated, it was stopped - apparently because the
contractor had not been paid.
Comment: Rabbit Advocacy was recently contacted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals regarding an inquiry they had received about how to humanely manage a population of feral rabbits on an island. Further information elicited was that it was in reference to the rabbits living on Robben Island. We did a search and found that there are estimated to be 4,000 – 5, 000 of these critters! CapeNature, responsible for biodiversity conservation in the area, prohibits the live removal of the European rabbit. Regarded as an exotic invasive species, South Africa does not want rabbits released anywhere on the mainland, fearing a "catastrophic event" similar to Australia's invasion of rabbits. Evidently there have been many previous offers of rescue for not only the rabbits, but other wildlife, but other than a worsening situation, there has been little change. The day-to-day suffering and death among the various species is taking its toll. True to human form, there's the usual bickering, fighting, and politics at play among various groups and officials, instead of an efficient collaboration to save the animals.
Problems at Robben Island, Mandela jail site (excerpt)
The island's problems even include an infestation of 4,000 rabbits, who have overrun the world heritage site treasured for its colonies of penguins and endangered birds.
Rabbits have nibbled away what little vegetation grows in the barren soil — including Nel's garden. The bunny population exploded after authorities removed 100 wild cats that had been stalking rare birds, including the endangered black oyster catcher.
The flash of rabbit tails punctuates the landscape they are decimating. Wildlife officials and local game reserve owners must bring in food for other island animals, and plan to move the estimated 200 European fallow deer — regarded as an alien species and so not allowed under South Africa's strict conservation rules — to mainland parks. Animal welfare groups initially protested plans to kill the rabbits. But now, even the head of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Allan Perrins, concedes that "the rabbits must go.”
CapeNature advises on the management of alien animals on Robben Island, 29 May 2008 (excerpt)
The live removal of rabbits to the
mainland to be strictly prohibited.
Although fluffy and cute and probably an ideal pet, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is on a global scale one of the most pernicious and destructive invasive species. The rabbit has successfully invaded every continent except Asia and Antarctica causing massive negative impacts on the environment wherever they have invaded. It is not perchance that rabbits are is listed as one of the world’s worst invasive alien species by the IUCN/SSC’s Invasive Species Specialist Group and are in fact regarded by some, along with the common rat, as being one of the world’s five worst invasive species.
Feral populations of rabbits have a devastating impact on any natural environment in that they compete with indigenous wildlife, damage vegetation and degrade the land. Rabbits are responsible for serious erosion problems as they eat virtually any and all plants available to them (including roots and seeds), which leaves the topsoil exposed and vulnerable to erosion. This removal of topsoil is devastating to the land as it may take hundreds of years to regenerate the topsoil to its original condition. Not only do rabbits destroy many indigenous plants by overgrazing, but because rabbits graze more closely than domestic stock and wild animals, they weaken perennial grasses, which allow weed invasion and further soil destabilization. Rabbits are most destructive in arid and semi-arid zones where soils are fragile and more prone to erosion once ground cover is removed, this is important to note given that over 90% of South Africa’s landscape is classified as arid, semi-arid or sub-humid.
Australia, where rabbits have probably had the most profound environmental as well as economic impact than any other area, carries a number of important lessons for South Africa insofar as the risks posed by feral rabbits. In 1859 only 24 wild rabbits were released into the wild in Australia. By 1926 the figure was estimated to be 10 billion rabbits! The spread of rabbits in Australia was the fastest of any colonizing mammal anywhere in the world (130 kilometres per year). Given the ecological and climatological similarities between South Africa (especially the Western Cape Province) and Australia and the rabbits’ ability occur in a variety of habitats, ranging from deserts to coastal plains, it is critical that we do not allow rabbits to be released in the wild anywhere in South Africa where a catastrophic event similar to Australia’s rabbit-invasion is a certainty.
South Africa: 'Eco-Xenophobia' for Island's Deer
June 8, 2008
Robben Island's grazing can no longer support the antelope and fallow deer because of the proliferation of rabbits, which occurred when feral cats were removed. On Saturday Derman, who estimates that it will cost him at least R600 000 to rescue the deer, said he believed he could remove enough animals in six months for the veld to start recovering.
He plans to feed the animals for another three weeks to build up their strength. Then he wants to capture them, move them to holding camps in the old walled part of the prison, where they could be vaccinated, fed intensively and sterilised then take them off the island.
Derman said the rabbits will not be allowed to leave the island. "Our plan is to manufacture five to 10 portable traps designed to capture between 10 and 50 rabbits at a time." Derman said vet Douw Grobbelaar had agreed to oversee the capture and sterilisation process.
However, as much as they laud Derman's efforts, some no-kill animal welfare organisations believe the current policies of CapeNature almost guarantee that the fallow deer will eventually be killed. Kas Hamman, CapeNature's director of bio-diversity, "strongly advised" culling the deer and rabbits on site or to arrange for the removal of the deer according to its stringent guidelines. He said they would not allow the rabbits off the island. http://allafrica.com/stories/200806090801.html
Read more on our Nature/Human Impact page
Man is nature's sole mistake. W. S. Gilbert