Namibia’s desert elephantsSeptember 3, 2012
Out of Africa Town Lodge – OtjiwarongoSeptember 3, 2012
by Amy Schoeman
A curious aspect of the Cape hare is that when you come across it out in the open, it comes to a dead halt the instant it becomes aware of you. It crouches there without twitching a whisker, its ears lying flat on its shoulders, allowing you to come really close and take photographs at your leisure. You wonder whether it’s playing dead, relying on its cryptic coloration for camouflage, and hoping that you won’t notice it if it doesn’t move. Then suddenly it decides that you’ve approached close enough. The ears come up and it scurries off in zig-zag fashion, or alternatively, if it feels really threatened, it races off at full speed with the body held low to the ground and the ears hugging the shoulders. An additional escape mechanism is to jump from side to side, used especially when escaping from dogs.
While its common name suggests that this species is associated particularly with the Cape Province in South Africa, this is not the case at all. Apart from the fact that the original specimen used by Linnaeus to describe the species came from the Cape of Good Hope, Lepus capensis is widely distributed on the African continent and also occurs in the Middle East and throughout Asia as far eastwards as Mongolia and China. The Cape hare’s Afrikaans name, vlakhaas, is particularly appropriate, as this species has a far greater preference for open habitat than its cousins.
Indeed, in Namibia the Cape hare inhabits the arid southern and western parts of the country, preferring flat, open plains. Since these hares are grazers, their habitat must provide palatable short grasses as well as cover in the form of shrubs or clumps of grass to provide shelter during the heat of the day. They lie up with their ears folded flat on their shoulders, always on the alert and ready to take off when danger threatens. While predominantly nocturnal, they are occasionally seen foraging during the day, especially when it is overcast.
Cape hares are usually solitary. However, when a female is in oestrus, several males may be in attendance and during this time fights between the males occur frequently. They rear up on their hind legs, slashing at each other with the claws on the front feet, and when close enough, kicking at each other with their hind feet. During these fights the contestants tend to lose a great deal of fur.
These animals have extremely keen senses. Their eyesight and hearing are particularly acute. When disturbed at night they sit up on their haunches with their ears raised to try and detect the source of the disturbance. Except for a barely audible grunting and a high-pitched scream of fear when handled or caught in traps, they are silent. In captivity they often grind their teeth, which might be a mode of communication when at close quarters. They also drum with their forefeet and stamp their hind feet, an interesting variety of body language all round.
This article appeared in the May/June ‘04 edition of Travel News Namibia.