Lepus capensis (Cape hare)

vlakhaas [Afrikaans]; Kaphase [German]; ličvre du Cap [French]; sungura [Swahili]; umvundla [isiNdebele] [isiXhosa]; unogwaja [isiZulu]; mofuli [Sesotho]; matshwaratsela [na]; mmutla wamatshwaratselana, matsaatsela, mmutla wamatsaatsela, mmutlę wamatsaatsela, ditshętlhane, moduô1ô [Setswana]; tsuro [Shona]; logwatja [siSwati]; mpfundla [Xitsonga]; muvhuda, khomu [Tshivenda]; shakame [Lozi]; unshuru [Yei]; !Ôas [Nama, Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Euarchontaglires > Glires > Lagomorpha (rabbits, hares and pikas) > Family: Leporidae (rabbits, hares)

Lepus capensis (Cape hare) Lepus capensis (Cape hare)

Lepus capensis (Cape hare), Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Lepus capensis (Cape hare), Karoo National Park, Western Cape. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Identification

Cape hares have a typical hare-like body shape with long ears, long well-developed hind legs, a short fluffy tail and a characteristic hopping gait. The body hair is fine and soft, the upperparts vary in colour from light brown and black flecked, to a whitish-grey in the north. Their colouration is so variable that it is difficult to give a precise description. The belly is white. The head is a lighter yellowish colour on the nose and the cheeks. Most animals have a distinct white patch on the forehead just above the eyes. The nucal patch, situated in the nape of the neck behind the ears is a more brownish-pink colour than the rest of the body. Northern animals are paler in colour with more grey, rather than brown tones. The tail is black above and white underneath. The females are larger and heavier than the males.

Size

Body length 45-60 cm; weight range 1.4 –2.5 kg

Dental formula

ICPM = 26-28

Distribution and habitat

Wide distribution in the western and central regions of South Africa. Isolated populations occur in Botswana, Limpopo and southern Mozambique. Although widely distributed, the original specimen from which Linnaeus described the species (called a type specimen) came from the Cape of Good Hope. Prefers dry, open habitats.

General Behaviour

Cape hares occur singly unless a female is accompanied by courting males or her off-spring. They are nocturnal but may be active during the early morning and the late afternoon. During the day they lie up in “forms” (shallow depressions in the ground or grass), usually concealed under bushes amongst some grass. The drab colour of the body provides good camouflage and they fold their ears flat back against their body with the head tucked in against the body. Characteristically of hares when threatened they remain motionless until the last second and then suddenly break cover and rely on their speed to escape. If caught they emit a loud squealing sound, and will kick viciously with their large back feet and bite if given the opportunity.

Food

The diet of scrub hares consists of the leaves, rhizomes and stems of dry and green grass, but they have a preference for green grass. Coprophagy, the reingestion of fecal material, is a common behavior amongst rabbits and hares. This habit allows the animal to extract the maximum nourishment from fibrous plant food and microbes present in the pellets also provide nutrients. Two types of faecal pellets are produced soft moist pellets often with a mucous capsule, and hard fibrous ones that are discarded. Young hares consume these moist pellets produced by their mother, this serves to introduce the necessary “flora” into the digestive system of the young hare.

Predators, parasites and commensals

They have many natural predators including birds of prey, caracal and jackal

Reproduction

After a gestation period of 42 days, females give birth to 1-3 “leverets” per litter and may have as many as 4 litters per year. At birth the leverets eyes are open, they are fully haired and can move around soon afterwards. The birth of young at an advanced state of development is another characteristic that separates hares from rabbits, that produce naked, blind babies in a burrow. The leverets' cryptic colouration provides good camouflage, and they are adept at concealing themselves. When they are very young they appear to have no body scent as they are often passed over  undetected by dogs. .

Life span

1-2 years.

Conservation

Although Cape Hare numbers may be low in certain areas due to hunting pressures and loss of habitat to farming and urban development, they are not regarded as threatened and their conservation status is graded as lower risk.

Text by Denise Hamerton


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