Wild dogs in Kruger National Park. Poaching continues to be a threat in South African game reserves. Picture: Chris Collingridge/The Star
Johannesburg – The fight for South Africa’s mammals could prove harder than expected.

This follows the release of the 2016 Revised Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi).

This Red List provides an up-to-date look at the state of the country’s mammals, of which 57 are deemed to be threatened with extinction and 34 are near threatened.

The EWT and Sanbi have acknowledged that the public may not be familiar with many of southern Africa’s threatened species as they have restricted ranges and are rarely seen.

This includes the golden mole and the endemic white-tailed rat.

Mammal Red List co-ordinator Matthew Child said the threats that mammals face are broad and complex. “Conservationists must tackle multiple ongoing challenges to address them effectively.

“Habitat loss from agricultural, industrial – including renewable energy – and human settlement expansion continues to impact on key habitats, such as grasslands and wetlands,” he said.

“This expansion also fragments remaining habitats, with most of our larger species left isolated in fenced-off protected areas.

“Compounding this, climate change is projected to increase drought conditions in the western parts of South Africa and to reduce the amount of specific habitats,” Child said.

Overall, the Red List assessed 331 species, subspecies or subpopulations, compared to 295 in the 2004 assessment.

The Cape mountain zebra is safe, due largely to their expansion on private protected areas. Picture: Supplied

As of this year, 19 more species were threatened compared to 2004. This means no overall progress in conservation has been made in the past decade.

In 2004 the southern white rhino was at the least-concern level, but it’s now sitting at near threatened.

The southern-central black rhino has also been moved onto the endangered list, while in 2004 it was at the vulnerable level, the change mainly due to poaching.

Leopards have also become vulnerable, whereas in 2004 they were at the least-concern level.

According to the EWT and Sanbi, agricultural, industrial and settlement expansion also tend to increase the rates of damaging human activities, such as fuel wood harvesting, overgrazing, pollution, electric fence erection and water abstraction.

This continues to threaten species that rely on productive and connected habitats such as grasslands, wetlands and riparian corridors.

That impacts many species, including the riverine rabbit, which is critically endangered, the African striped weasel, which is near threatened; and the spotted-necked otter, which is vulnerable.

However, South Africa can boast about some real conservation success stories, often driven by co-operation between conservationists and the private sector.

The bontebok, which is currently vulnerable, for example, was saved from the brink of extinction by a few prescient landowners in Bredasdorp.

Today, both the Cape mountain zebra and the South African populations of African lion have been listed as"least concern, due largely to their expansion on private protected areas.

Innovative interventions such as the Badger Friendly Honey Programme, livestock guarding dogs and biodiversity stewardship schemes are beginning to have a positive impact on many species.

The EWT and Sanbi said that overall, South African mammals demonstrate contrasting conservation trends.

While many species are increasing in number and geographical distribution thanks to protected area expansion, biodiversity stewardship and private wildlife ownership, many others are declining, even within protected areas, due to ongoing habitat loss and degradation of sensitive environments, wildlife trafficking, and bushmeat hunting, they said.

The 2016 Mammal Red List of South Africa Lesotho and Swaziland forms part of a series of national Red List projects recently completed by Sanbi and its partners, including butterflies, reptiles and birds.

The Star