The scrub hare (Lepus saxatilis ) is one of two species of hares found in southern Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Eswatini and Lesotho. Although it is listed as a least concern species, the population has been declining and is expected to decline by 20% over the next 100 years.
Scrub hares have a very distinct coloration. On the dorsal side, their fur is grizzled-gray with small black spots. The ventral side of the fur is all white. Scrub hares have a small, stubby tail being black on top and white below. These hares have a patch of red-brown fur behind their ears. Scrub hares have long gray ears that are normally perched up, and together with the tail make them most visible when individuals running from predators. Females in this species are typically larger than males.
Scrub hares are native to southern Africa. They are found in southern Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. They have also been spotted in southeast Ethiopia, southwest Mauritania, Senegal, Uganda, Kenya, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria, and Mozambique. However, Scrub hares are don't occur in the Namib desert. These animals inhabit scrub, tall grasslands and savanna woodlands. At night, however, they can be seen in open grasslands. They can also occur in agriculturally developed lands.
Scrub hares are solitary creatures that prefer to live alone. They can only be seen together for mating purposes. They are nocturnal and forage at night. However, if the weather is overcast, they will come out earlier. During the day they create a small indent in the ground and lie flat in a motionless form with their ears tucked back to their shoulders. As long as they remain motionless, predators cannot detect them because their coloration blends in with the scrubland and vegetation. When a predator is near, the hare remains completely motionless, hoping it is not spotted. But at the last possible moment, the Scrub hare uses its long hind legs to jump and run away as fast as it can. It runs in a zigzagged formation in hopes it will be difficult for the predator to catch it. However, when it is caught it makes a loud squeal for distress and tries to kick or bite, which is usually unsuccessful. Scrub hares are vocal and produce loud squeals if they are wounded or distressed. They also produce loud chirping sound if they are disturbed in an open habitat during the night.
Scrub hares are polygynous and during the mating season many males will surround a female in hopes to mate with her. To win the female over, the males will usually compete through ‘boxing’ with their forefeet or kicking with their hind legs. Sometimes the female even gets injured during these fights because the competition is so fierce between the males. Scrub hares can breed throughout the year, but their peak season is during the summer months of September to February. The gestation period is about 42 days and a female gives birth anywhere from 1 to 3 babies at a time. Females can have up to 4 litters per year and can even give birth to triplets after a rainy season. The young are born fully haired, open-eyed, and 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. The mother may nurse her young at night, but it does not last for many days. Scrub hares typically reach their reproductive maturity at 1 year of age.
Main threats to Scrub hares include habitat fragmentation, commercial plantations, and development. All this destroys their habitats and leaves them exposed to predators. These animals also suffer from hunting. Many local people hunt them for food and sometimes create gloves out of their soft, warm fur. There has been a distinct population decline due to hunting in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of Scrub hares is more than 10,000 individuals. This species’ numbers are decreasing, however, it is currently classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Scrub hares have many roles in the ecosystem. They are responsible for a small amount of soil aeration, which helps redistribute the soil when they are creating their indentations and their forms. An indentation or form is when the hare burrows itself into the ground so that an ‘indent’ forms where it perfectly molds to their body. They also are prey items for other animals such as Side-striped jackals, cheetahs, caracals, and some predatory birds.