Spring Hare
(Pedetes capensis)
The spring hare resembles a tiny kangaroo with long powerful back legs. It is actually neither a kangaroo nor a hare but in fact a rodent. Scientists have found it difficult to classify satisfactorily. It has previously been grouped with jerboas (jumping rodents), porcupines and scaly tailed squirrels, until it was eventually allotted a family of its own, the Pedetiae, of which it is the only species and genus. The spring hare differs from other rodents in its anatomy, gait and reproduction. It can jump huge heights and distances. Spring hares are hunted to a degree for their meat and sometimes culled to protect crops and are also at risk from habitat loss.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Monitoring population trends and researching harvests by humans.
Occurs from the southern Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Kenya to South Africa.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Rodentia
Family: Pedetidae
The spring hare is the only species within the only genus of the family Pedetidae, there are two distinct subpopulations. It has an uncertain lineage and has previously been classified with both porcupines (Hystricomydae) and the family of rodents including squirrels, parie dogs and chipmunks (Sciuridae).The spring hare retains some characteristics from both of these families yet genetic analysis resulted in strong support for the clustering of the spring hare with the jumping rodents, including kangaroo rats and gerbils (Heteromyidae/Geomyidae/Muridae). This finding is in agreement with the taxonomy suggested by studies of reproductive and anatomical features of the spring hare.

Genetic analysis has led to the claim that the two distinct populations, Pedetes capensis surdaster of East Africa and P. c. capensis of Southern Africa, should be elevated to the status of separated species. Specimens from Southern Africa have fewer chromosomes (2n= 38) than those from East Africa (2n = 40) as well as other genetic variations. The spring hare has a septum in its lower trachea which is found only in birds and in no other mammals.
Head and body length: 350-430 mm
Tail length: 370-470mm
Weight: 3-4kg
The spring hare resembles a tiny kangaroo with long powerful back legs. The coat is soft and long and ranges in colour from buff to reddish brown. The under parts are lighter and a pale line extends up in front of the back legs. The long hairy tail has a dark brush at the tip. The forelegs are short with long curved claws for digging. The hind legs are long and powerful for jumping. The head is short and blunt with large eyes. The ears are specially modified with a tragus, a nodule of cartilage in the outer ear, which closes the ear opening and prevents sand from entering when the animal is digging.
The spring hare digs burrows for shelter and protection from predators. A pair of spring hares may have several burrows, each with a number of entrances. The species is nocturnal (or night-active) and emerges from its burrow at night to feed. Sometimes it exits its burrow with a huge leap in the air and this is thought to be a technique for avoiding predators, which may lay in wait outside the burrow. Whilst feeding, the spring hare may move about like rabbit on all fours but when frightened it jumps toward nearest burrow on its hind legs in series of long leaps. Its main predators are African wild cats (such as servals, caracals and genets), jackals, mongooses and owls.

The spring hare may travel several kilometres in a night but rarely ventures far from a burrow. Its diet consists mainly of bulbs and roots, with stems, grasses and insects also occasionally being eaten. Groups of individuals may live agreeably in the same area, but they are not a social unit and a single burrow only ever contains one adult or a pair with young. Offspring are produced in every month of year. Normally a single offspring is born and a female can produce between two and three in a year. The young remain in the burrow throughout the period of lactation (approximately 6 weeks). Sexual maturity is reached between 2 and 3 years. In captivity spring hares can live up to 19 years.
Preferred habitat is in arid or semi-arid country areas that have dry, sandy soils for their burrows.
Occurs from the southern Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Kenya to South Africa including the countries of Angola, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This species has a wide, yet patchy, distribution and although uncommon in parts of its range, it is generally common and well-represented in protected areas.
Population Estimate
Population Trend
Unknown. Hunting poses a threat but this species is, in general, unlikely to be threatened and is probably only vulnerable to localised population declines. The populations in southern Africa are considered to be fairly stable, but there is little information from East Africa. Nonetheless, it seems plausible to currently consider the species as Least Concern.
The Spring hare is classified as Least Concern on the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
In cultivated areas the spring hare occasionally causes damage to crops and, for this reason, is killed off as a pest by farmers. Spring hares are, to a certain degree, used as food by African people and bushmen sometimes dig the animal out from its burrow. Hunting does pose a threat but this species is, in general, unlikely to be threatened and is probably only vulnerable to localised population declines. The spring hare is vulnerable to habitat loss. Estimates suggest that in the past 30 years habitat loss and degradation has been a major issue across the African continent, particularly in the arid areas inhabited by the spring hare. Causes of this habitat degradation include climate change, drought and desertification, floods, bush fires, rapid urbanisation, poor farming methods, pollution and resource exploitation.
Conservation Underway
Protected areas such as National Parks and game reserves have been established to safeguard the future of many species. Conservation agencies seek to involve local people in managing and valuing protected areas. Ecotourism generates revenue which can be spent on maintaining these areas whilst also benefiting local communities. Environmental education is also taking place in some places to help local people manage their environment sustainably.
Conservation Proposed
The IUCN recommends monitoring the spring hare and researching population trends and harvests by humans.
Grubb, P. 2004. Pedetes capensis. In: IUCN (2007). 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesDownloaded on 13 November May 2006.

Matthee, C. A. and Robinson, T. J. 1997b. Mitochondrial DNA phylogeography and comparative cytogenetics of the springhare, Pedetes capensis (Mammalia: Rodentia). Journal of Mammalian Evolution 4 (1) : 53-73

Matthee, C. A. and Robinson, T. J. 1997a. Molecular phylogeny of the springhare, Pedetes capensis, based on mitochondrial DNA sequences. Molecular Biology and Evolution 14 (1) : 20-29.

Nowak, R. M. (ed.) 1999. Walkers Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Peinke, D. and Bernard, R.T.F. (2005) Life history of the springhare (Pedetes capensis) from a strongly seasonal environment in the eastern Cape Province of South Africa. African Zoology 40 (2) : 285-292 L

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