Brown Hare, European Hare, Cape Hare

(Lepus capensis/europaeus)


Brown Hare, European Hare, Cape Hare IUCN LEAST CONCERN (LC)


Facts about this animal

There are differing views among taxonomists as to whether Lepus capensis and Lepus europaeus are two distinct species, or europaeus is just a subspecies of capensis. As they are very similar in appearance, body functions and behaviour, they are treated as one single species for the purposes of the Virtual Zoo.


An adult hare can reach a weight of 4 - 5 kg, with a head-body length of about 52 - 60 cm. It has a short, bushy, black and white tail, long, black-tipped ears (12 - 14 cm) and very long and powerful hind legs with four toes, strong claws and hairy soles. The fore limbs are much shorter and have five toes. The fur is brown with shades of black on the upper parts, underparts are white.


In the Northern Hemisphere, the reproductive season usually lasts from February to October with a peak in April-May. In non-pregnant females mating occurs at weekly intervals. Pregnancy lasts about 42 days. Up to 10 days before birth, the female may mate again, which can lead to superfetation, consequently to birth intervals shorter than 42 days. Females become sexually mature at about 6 months, they usually produce 3 to 4 litters per year with 1-5, mostly 2-3, leverets per litter.


Differently from rabbits, young brown hares, called leverets are born with fur and their eyes open, and are weaned after 2-5 weeks. They weigh 80-180 g at birth and live in a 'form' (a depression in the ground), under the cover of vegetation or rock outcrops.


The brown hare's diet consists mainly of grasses and herbs, with mainly grasses in summer, herbs in winter. Also buds, bark, twigs, particularly of fruit trees, and arable crops such as early stages of cereals are eaten, and there are isolated reports of hares catching and eating voles or other small mammals.

Did you know?
That it is only since 1944 that brown hares can be successfully kept and bred in human care? At that time, Heini Hediger, then Director of Basel Zoo, invented the "mirror cage", a set of two adjoining symmetric cages with the possibility of shifting the animals without stress from one compartment to the other. Shifting the hares every second day into a clean cage was necessary at that time when no effective coccidiostatics and anthelminthics were available.


Name (Scientific) Lepus capensis/europaeus
Name (English) Brown Hare, European Hare, Cape Hare
Name (French) Lièvre brun, Lièvre européen, Lièvre du Cap
Name (German) Feldhase
Name (Spanish) Liebre europea
Local names Afrikaans: Vlakhaas
Croatian: (Europski) zec
Czech: Zajíc polní
Danish: (Europæisk) hare
Dutch; (Europese) haas
Estonian: Halljänes
Finnish: Rusakko
Greek: Lagós
Hungarian: Mezei nyúl
Italian: Lepre comune
Polish: Zajac szarak
Portuguese: Lebre-comum
Romansh: Lieur brina
Slovakian: Zajac pol'ný
Slovenoan: Poljski zajec
seTswana: Mutlwa
Somali: Bakeyle
Swedish: Fälthare
Turkish: Bayagi tavsan
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



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Range Lepus europaeus (yellow): Northern, central, western Europe and Asia, and the most northern parts of Africa. Lepus capensis (red): Africa, Middle East, Central and Eastern Asia. Introduced to Canada, USA, Central and South America and Australia.
Habitat They prefer temperate open habitats like grasslands, often around agriculture fields and near woodland and hedgerows.
Wild population Unknown, but declining. Population densities range from 0.1/ha to 3.4/ha (1990) (Red List IUCN 2011)
Zoo population L. europaeus: 18 reported to ISIS L. capensis: 4 reported to ISIS

In the Zoo

Brown Hare, European Hare, Cape Hare


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 79 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Shal Jahan

Why do zoos keep this animal

Brown hares are usually kept for educational purposes because they are well-known to people as "Easter bunny" and from fairy tales, and have been anthropomorphised in movies such as Walt Disney's "Bambi", but less an less seen in the wild - at least in Europe. Of special interest are the differences between rabbits and hares, and the brown hare's reproductive physiology.


In a few instances, zoos have also made available brown hares for reintroduction or restocking projects.