Second Prize …

For reasons that are hard to fathom in hindsight, early European settlers in Australia thought it a good idea to introduce some creatures from home and elsewhere. They should have known better, the World’s first recorded rabbit plague occurred in the first century BC

… in the Balearic Islands. The citizens implored Emperor Augustus to send the Roman army to save them from the ravages of rabbits that had overrun their islands. The Greeks had already experienced similar happenings with hares, which they had released on islands throughout the Aegean Sea.   The Fauna of Australia.

The introduction of the Rabbit to Australia is a fairly well-known folly. Released in Victoria in 1858 it had occupied 4 million  kmwithin 60 years despite the erection of thousands of kilometres of fencing meant to contain it. The economic and environmental damage that it continues to do is staggering.

Did I say folly? That might be an understatement, not that the experience prevented more crazy introductions. The Cane Toad wasn’t released on an unsuspecting environment until 1935.

The Brown or European Hare isn’t quite so famous. They are said to be vastly outnumbered by rabbits in Australia but around home at present I see hares just as often as rabbits. I can sit on the back verandah and watch them boxing. They were introduced from 1837 onwards … it took several goes before they successfully took off, indeed it wasn’t until the 1930’s that they reached plague proportions with gun clubs mobilised to protect cereal crops and tree plantations, sometimes killing thousands in a day. Their population seems to have stabilised since then.

They don’t burrow. During the day they sit quietly on the ground relying on their camouflage until you get quite close. Then they’re off at a sprint. I’ve never set out to photograph them, their introduced status makes them second class citizens and they would in any case pose quite a challenge. This photograph came about while I was patiently waiting for some White-browed Babblers to venture into range. Another human wandered into the scene flushing the hare towards me (and scaring the more desirable targets away).


In the literature Australia’s introduced Hare is variously referred to as Brown Hare  and given the scientific name Lepus capensis [Linnaeus 1758] or as the European Hare Lepus europeaus [Pallas 1788]. In the international literature you can find Lepus capensis with the common name given as Cape Hare.

If we head back to the presumed source …

There are two species of hare in the UK, the mountain hare and the brown hare. Brown hares are thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans about 2 000 years ago, but originated in central Asia.

and the scientific name given for Brown Hare in this article is L. europeaus. and it’s not a UK native to start with but much loved nonetheless. Whilst hares have second class citizen status here in the UK the Hare Protection Act (1911) prevents the sale of adults or leverets between 1st March and 31st July. I guess if you’re hunting them in that period you have to keep them in the freezer until June!
In fact the task of sorting out europeaus and capensis is not an easy one. Humans have had a culinary interest in them since ancient times and have shifted them around the scenery with no regard for taxonomists. The experts are still arguing as to whether they are one species or two. And when they’ve sorted that out there are at least thirty other species in the genus to fight about.
So much for splitting hares, what’s the difference between rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus Linnaeus 1758 and hares Lepus whateverus?
The splendid Fauna of Australia section 45:Leporidae is an absolute mine of information. Whilst both are in the same family Rabbits are large small mammals whilst Hares are small large mammals. This is far more interesting than it sounds. Small mammals demonstrate …

little parental care … high metabolic rates, short generation times, high rates of increase and (are) more likely to fall victim to predators. This group is severely affected by environmental change and burrowing … is common among its members.

That describes the Rabbit whilst large mammals …

are less affected by environmental events and have life histories based on outrunning predators or hiding; burrowing is uncommon.

and that describes the hare.
In the Holarctic fauna Hares are the only mammals in that size class. If it wasn’t for them there would be a clear gap between large and small mammals.
If you’re just trying to tell them apart Hares are larger with longer ears that have black tips. Recipes could probably be used interchangeably.

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