Some plot dwellers refer to their wild hares as Springhares or Springhase. However it turns out that the Springhare (Pedetes capensis) is not even a hare – it is actually a species of rodent, which resembles a kangaroo.
So what we see at night, raiding the veggie patch or being set up by the dogs and zigzagging across a field at great speed, is most likely a Scrub Hare (Lepus Saxatilis) or Ribbokhaas (Afrikaans), Umvundla (Ndebele, Xhosa), Mofuli (Sesotho).
Their body colour is a neutral grey colour decorated with small black areas in between, which results in a distinct colour by which they can be identified and distinguished from other species of hares and even rabbits. Their long ears are rounded and blackly coloured at the tips, and stand erected above their heads most of the time. They have small, puffy tails, which are white at the bottom, like its abdomen and chest. Their average weight range is between 1.5 and 4.5kg.
Scrub hares are nocturnal and live above the ground, hiding in thick undergrowth vegetation during the day. While sleeping they flatten themselves and the vegetation where they have been lying typically takes the shape of their bodies. That is why the ‘dens’ of scrub hares are known as ‘forms’. They are equipped with long powerful legs for running and long ears for enhanced hearing.
Their young, known as leverets, are born fully furred, eyes open and can move from birth, as they need to be able to escape danger immediately on being born. Remarkably, leverets will be totally independent of their parents within one month.
The scrub hare is herbivorous and feeds on short, green grasses grown in the bushveld and savannah. In times of scarcity, the hares will also eat leaves, stems and rhizomes of dried grass.
The initial processing of the food is quick, which means that the hare has not gained as much nutrition as it could. For this reason, hares practice coprophagia (the consuming of dung) to maximize on the undigested nutrients still in their dung. Hares produce vitamin-rich soft green faeces during the night, which are immediately re-eaten directly from the anus to extract the moisture and additional nutrients in the dung and to replenish the micro bacteria in their guts. Then the following day, hares produce the more familiar hard pellets, which are discarded. This process is known as refection.
Breeding occurs between September and February, but they can breed throughout the year. Between one to three leverets are born per litter, with triplets being more likely during a rainy season.
The scrub hare lives by itself, although a female in heat might be accompanies by more than one male.
When scrub hares flee from danger, they are able to reach speeds of 70 kmph. They run in an irregular zigzag manner, which makes it difficult for the predator to follow. They may even allow an insistent pursuer to gain on them and then at the last moment diverge causing the predator to overshoot and thus have to abandon the chase.
At night if scrub hares are caught in the headlights of a vehicle, they may instinctively employ this strategy and continuously flee down the road, possibly deflecting at seemingly the last moment. Drivers should slow down or stop and switch off the headlights until the hare has got away.