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Posts Tagged ‘leveret’

He (or she – I never did try to find out) seemed quite content with the daily rhythm of feed, weigh and cage and there were no more unexpected (scary) episodes. Continuing to take advice from the Hare Preservation Trust and Susan McClure, I followed feeding instructions relating to age and weight and approached weaning with some trepidation.

I introduced a wide variety of the right grasses, herbs and a few treats (pea pods turned out to be a real favourite) and began to reduce his milk. Feeding time was twice a day, at about 7am and 6-7pm because those are likely the times that hares will naturally feed in the wild.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe objected strongly to the reduction in milk delivery – when I’d taken it down to about 25mls once a day, it disappeared so fast that his head was going backwards and forwards obviously wondering where the heck the rest was. When, within a day or two, I stopped the milk completely, he butted my hand as I took out the previous delivery of uneaten grass, clearly – even in a hare-y way – looking for his bottle. That only lasted a day or two and I assuaged his need (and my mild guilt) with a couple of pea pods treats on arrival.

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Releasing him was now high on the To Do list. He was completely weaned, in a very large cage with lumps of wood to gnaw on and pieces of turf that I’d dug up from the garden to give him the right environment to hunker down during the day. Hares position themselves in a scrape or ‘form’ in a field, ideally near a few tussocks of grass so that their profile is less visible. When I arrived in the evening, if I could sidle up without him hearing me – he’d be up immediately and in his ‘dining area’ waiting for room service if he did – he’d be tucked down between two of these tussocks. If he’d been in a field, he’d have been very difficult to spot.

He was a good size – I’d stopped weighing him as I didn’t want to handle him at all – and I was confident he was good to go… but where? Happily, a few years earlier we’d met a British guy who had a stable of heavy horses about 30 minutes away. He made hay once a year with these horses, no silage (silaging particularly kills leverets because it scalps the ground and the leverets don’t know to get out of the way) and left wild field margins which weren’t cut. He used no pesticides and didn’t allow hunting. Hunting (locals, out every week, with dogs and guns) was the main reason that release at La Fosse wasn’t ideal – I wanted to give Grunty the maximum chance of a long life. And there were already hares on the land thus indicating it was a good environment for them.

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So one sultry August afternoon, we popped Grunty with some of his bedding (to give him a sense – and scent – of familiarity) into a cat carrier. He seemed entirely unperturbed by the unusual activity or the car journey itself and we drove him over to Richard’s. We walked across a couple of fields and while Patrick and Richard chatted, I walked on a bit further into the uncut field margin and opened the cat carrier several metres from a hedge. Grunty came out himself – with no particular urgency but looked around with interest. I gave him a peapod or two, put the straw and hay from the cat carrier in a dip under some bracken and left him to it.

As I packed up the cat carrier and walked away, he ambled away from me, snatching a mouthful of leaves as he went. He didn’t look back. It was an entirely uneventful release and I do feel that we prepared him for a life under the open sky as well as we could.

It was a fascinating exercise – it was one thing reading up about what I needed to do but it turned out Grunty hadn’t always read the same websites so, particularly for the first few weeks when I was trying to figure out the best feeding regime, it was difficult to get right… to do things in a way that a hare’s instincts told him he needed. I second-guessed myself a lot. It would have been very tempting to try and turn him into a semi-wild pet… so many books we read as children encourage us to do that with rabbits, otters, birds… But I was sure that the best way to equip him for the future was not to take away or dull his instincts – in particular his instinctive wariness of humans so I handled him and was around him as little as possible.

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Oh, and apparently, a leveret doesn’t become a hare till its first birthday, regardless of how big it is. 😉

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I’d been warned that it would not be an easy task as hares are animals that are easily stressed and if stressed, won’t eat. And then their surprisingly delicate digestive system packs up and they die.

It seemed logical to me to provide the leveret with the same sort of environment as it would have with its mother when feeding – open air, open skies… but it wasn’t very successful and if even a bird flew over, he would stop feeding from the syringe, freeze, and I wouldn’t be able to encourage him to start again.

Then, analysing further – channelling my inner hare – I guessed that leverets would certainly be in the open air but probably had their heads stuck under Mama Hare’s furry underparts so they could reach the milk dispensers. In which case they wouldn’t be able to see anything and even their hearing would be dulled. So I started feeding him inside one of the downstairs rooms at La Fosse – which was still under construction but unsurprisingly, your average leveret doesn’t care about half-finished plasterboarding or droopy insulation… or even a lack of the now mandatory “pops of colour”. Result: the feeding routine began to work perfectly. So perfectly that, when he graduated from syringe to bottle, he was so focussed and fast that I had to pull him off the teat momentarily so he could swallow and breathe, before he latched on again and finished the bottle.

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Letting him guzzle too quickly risked him inhaling milk which would lead to a lung infection – a really bad thing – so it was a balance between him getting the occasional controlled breath but not pausing long enough for him to lose interest. I believe that the mother will only stay with the leverets long enough to feed them before she’s off again so perhaps a leveret instinctively believes feeding time is over if the milk source is removed for more than a few seconds. He then cannot be persuaded to start again.

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The process at feeding time was to collect him from his dog crate in a piece of towelling that he’d used from day 1 so had all the right, familiar scents, carry him indoors in towel in a basket, feed him, weigh him, and return him back to his nest. This eventually took a maximum of 3-4 minutes each time so adhering to my principle of keeping him as unhandled and unaccustomed to humans as possible. I was the only one who fed him – again in an attempt to prevent him assuming all humans were a food source.

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There were a few hiccups along the way – although we put additional wire mesh around the dog crate so that, when tiny, he couldn’t nip out through the wire, when he was about 3 weeks old, one night he tried climbing the wire and pushing through the bars. He got stuck. When I went out to him the following morning, he was just hanging, head through the bars, eyes closed. Aaaagh. I forced the bars apart, popped his head back through and held him while he woke up. He’d rubbed the fur off his hind legs – scrabbling with them to get through and then, when that didn’t work, to get free but he took his bottle with great enthusiasm and appeared not to be any the worse for his experience. The chicken wire was extended up the crate during his breakfast. On another occasion he managed to slip underneath the bottom of the tray and out into the undergrowth but fortunately Patrick was on hand to capture him and pop him back. Gaps were plugged immediately.

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He continued to grow and then it was time to wean him off milk and onto grasses and other herbage. He was not amused.

Part III to follow.

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