Bet you’ll be surprised who makes this undesirable list of the most endangered mammals of Africa.
When people think of endangered animals in Africa, elephants, giraffes, and zebras often come to mind. But the most critically endangered mammal in Africa is actually the Riverine Rabbit. Currently, there are less than 250 of these rabbits in the wild.
It has a very small geographical range, living in the part of the Karoo Desert in South Africa that can actually be used for agriculture. As its habitat becomes farmland, the Riverine Rabbit population continues to decline. Sharing the land with people often results in death due to hunting, trapping, and feral cats and dogs. Further, Riverine Rabbits breed slowly and rarely (relative to most other rabbit breeds). Within a lifespan of roughly three years or less, females give birth to one or two babies a year, resulting in an average of four young per lifetime.
The Riverine Rabbit Programme, run by Endangered Wildlife Trust, has developed a Conservation Management Plan. They are working with South African NGOs to educate landowners about the Riverine Rabbit and to work towards land management practices that promote biodiversity and a habitat for the Riverine Rabbit while still allowing humans to live off the land.
The white rhinoceros is also on the most endangered mammals of Africa list, owing primarily to one subspecies: the northern white rhinoceros. There are only three left in the world, and none of them live in the wild.
The demise of the northern white rhinoceros was rapid, since there were around 2000 in the wild only around 50 years ago. The other subspecies of white rhinoceroses, the southern white rhinoceroses, numbers around 20,000 living in protected areas and private game reserves. Although they are currently listed as “Near Threatened,” they are facing serious poaching problems that threaten to decimate their population once again.
Hundreds of white rhinoceroses are killed per year for their horns. These horns may be used as symbols of wealth, or be ground up into medicine. The growing middle class in Vietnam is the biggest market for white rhinoceros’s horn. As a species, they are susceptible to hunting since they live in herds and are usually not aggressive towards hunters. Recognizing the urgency of this problem, the World Wildlife Fund has come up with a five-point plan to help protect white rhinoceroses. These range from creating and expanding protected territories, making management of protected areas more effective, providing better security monitoring of white rhinoceros areas, working with law enforcement to crack down on the illegal sale of white rhinoceros horns, and making tourism experiences better to earn more money for conservation.
Also on this undesirable list of the most endangered mammal of Africa is the mountain gorilla. Right now, there are only 880 mountain gorillas living in the wild. As a result, they have been listed as “Critically Endangered” since 1996. Nearly half of all wild mountain gorillas live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The rest live 8000 to 13000 feet up in the Virunga Mountains, around the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
People moving into what previously was solely mountain gorilla territory has threatened the population, driving them up to higher ground and temperatures which even their thick fur coats cannot fully protect them against. A variety of other threats exist for mountain gorillas. War within the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed not only human lives, but also mountain gorilla lives. Further, war hurts the tourism that is important for the prosperity of the people and for motivating conservation efforts.
When mountain gorillas come into contact with humans, they run the chance of catching a human disease. Even diseases that would barely harm a human, like the common cold, could kill a mountain gorilla. Mountain gorillas are not targets for most hunters, but they do get caught in traps meant for other animals. Habitat destruction, especially due to people illegally collecting charcoal in mountain gorilla territory, has also contributed to the decline in the mountain gorilla population. Luckily, current conservation efforts have so far proven successful—with an average increase in the number of mountain gorillas, not a decrease, in recent years.
The World Wildlife Fund and the African Wildlife Foundation have partnered in working with Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo’s governments on the issue of mountain gorilla conservation. The African Wildlife Foundation has aided in the construction of “community-owned tourist lodges,” so that the community’s income is in part dependent on the conservation of mountain gorillas. This has proven effective in encouraging the people to help preserve mountain gorillas.
All mammals are important for biodiversity, for their ecosystems, and for tourism. As a result, conservation is important not only for such mammals, but for the countries they live in.
Watch for more about the most endangered mammals of Africa.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Cassandra Sonne