One thing you can be sure about when you are in the bush is that when you venture out you are likely to see something unexpected. On this particular occasion in Mashatu Nature Reserve we were driving back to camp after an afternoon game drive. The sun had set. It was around 19h30, and the night sky was star spangled. Once it gets dark we use spotlights to look for the game at night. The rule is not to shine the light directly at the animals as it blinds them, especially the herbivores. These days we use red filters on the spotlights minimise the risk of blinding the animals. I know from past experience that if someone shines a torch light straight in your eyes at night it will take about 45 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark again.
“Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer. Leopards, cobras, monkeys, rivers and trees; they all served as my teachers when I lived as a wanderer in the Himalayan foothills.”
On our way back, we were travelling on a dirt track approaching the four way intersection, at the Shepherd’s Tree, which was our camp turning. Sometimes on the return journey we turn off the spotlights allowing ourselves to be mesmerised by the vehicle’s headlights on the road in front. Suddenly in the headlights was a Scrub Hare on the right hand track in front of us. Nothing unusual about a Scrub Hare in the headlights, we saw them every evening on our journey back to camp. What was unusual this time was this Scrub Hare did not run off down the track. Our guide, Maifala, stopped the vehicle telling us to look closer. This was a Scrub Hare doe with her two leverets.
“The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
~ Eden Phillpotts
There are two hare species in southern Africa – Cape and Scrub. The Scrub Hare is widely distributed throughout southern Africa occurring in savanna scrub and tall grasslands. It is endemic to southern Africa.
There are distinct differences between hares and rabbits. Hares tend to be larger than rabbits, with longer hind legs and longer ears with black markings. This doe was licking the leveret which was lying on its back. The licking not only cleans the offspring’s fur, but also stimulates its breathing and digestive processes.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
~ Albert Einstein
Besides the physical differences between rabbits and hares, their social behaviour is quite different The most stark difference lies in their new born. Hare births peak from September to February, and a hare’s pregnancy lasts 42 days, compared with rabbits’ 30-31 days. Newborn hares, called leverets, are fully developed at birth with eyes open, and their bodies are covered in fur . Usually, there are two to four in a litter, and they are born above ground. To avoid the entire litter being lost to predators , the Scrub Hare doe will separate the leverets to individual resting places known as a ‘form’.
By contrast, newborn rabbits, called kittens or kits, are born undeveloped, with closed eyes, no fur, and an inability to regulate their own temperature.
“As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.”
~ Albert Schweitzer
The Scrub Hare is usually a solitary creature. The sexes are only seen together for mating purposes. Hares are nocturnal and most often seen foraging at night. During the day they create a small indent in the ground, a form, and lie flat in it motionless with their ears tucked back to their shoulders. As long as they remain motionless, predators usually cannot detect them because their colouration blends in so well with the scrubland and vegetation.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Scrub Hare does invest little time in parenting their young. The young are basically developed enough to take care of themselves. Although the time until independence is unknown, parents do not provide protection or resources and give them no learning experience. There is some suckling at night, but it does not last for many days. Maifala, our guide, said that in twenty four years of guiding in Mashatu he has only seen a Scrub Hare doe suckling her leverets once before. This was an unusual sighting and we we were fortunate enough to watch the licking and sucking process for about ten to fifteen minutes before the doe moved off out of the light.
The scrub hare has a few known predators such as jackals, cheetah, raptors and caracal.
Every now and then, mother nature will allow you to look closer into her more intimate world. We were all spellbound by this sighting and everyone on the vehicle was quiet for the remainder of the journey back to camp, taking in what we had just seen.
“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”
~ Ansel Adams
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.