As if I haven’t enough to fret about… this evening, just as it turned dark, I was driving back from the village to La Fosse when a small creature hopped across the road. At first glance, it was a young rabbit. At second glance…
…it was a leveret – a young hare.
A beautifully camoflaged leveret on the roadside verge – taken with flash
Hares are remarkable creatures. The female gives birth to eyes-open, fully furred, young. She parks them in a field or similarly suitable rough grass where they’ll blend into the foliage and earth colours.
Depending on season and availability of food, she’ll give birth to between 2 and 4 leverets and they nestle into the ground, in the open, in all weathers from day one. Mother Hare returns morning and evening to feed the youngsters and the milk bar is open for about a minute before she is loping off again and leaving the leverets to wait until her next visit. They’ll wait through blazing sun, heavy Normandy rain, frosts and even snow.
Note the black ‘notches’ on the ears which are held flat to the back to present as streamlined and invisible a profile as possible
Whereas young rabbits (born hairless and with eyes closed underground in the warren) will try and run away once they are old enough to be above ground, young hares rely on their camoflage to keep them safe. They don’t run, they fold their ears back and hunker down in the hope that the danger – the predator – will pass them by. So as I’d established that the one I’d seen was a hare, I drove home to pick up a camera in case they were still there when I got back.
They were… two of them (but possibly a third further up the bank at the back of the verge) and judging by their size, they are about 4-5 weeks old. I’d expect them to still be on mother’s milk and am concerned that they were on and adjacent to the road. However, they are big enough to be mobile – though not fast – perhaps they sensed danger in the field (a marten, stoat or weasel?) and decided to move. Or perhaps something has happened to Mother Hare and they were moving in the hope of finding her. The timing, shortly after dusk, certainly fits with feeding time. Well, I can’t know but I am really hoping that these little leverets will survive.
I’ll look for them in the morning, of course, but doing the right thing is impossible to gauge. If I touch them, that’s it: as I have to assume they are still being fed milk, I would have to take them and finish raising them to release weight. If I touch them, Mother Hare – if she is still around – will smell my scent on them and will abandon them.
I hate these natural world conundrums… life is precarious for these little creatures but interfering if you don’t know the circumstances is not a good idea. If I’d seen a hare dead on the road I’d have no hesitation in making an assumption, scooping up these little creatures and helping them over the next few weeks with ewe replacement milk (richer in fats compared to, say, kitten milk) and then weaning them on to grass and herbs. But if Mother is still doing her thing, they’re better off with mum than going through the shock of adapting to being bottle fed.
And if I’m honest, even if they do continue to survive with or without mum, just as they get their legs – the powerful back legs which give them their speed and ability to change direction in a heartbeat – the hunting season will start and if a local gun spots these magical creatures, I can confidently predict the end of several short little lives.
I am not against hunting for the pot, but hares are fascinating, secretive animals and their behaviours are not fully understood even now and I’d really rather see them running wild at dawn and dusk than providing a few mouthfuls on a plate.