The Black Naped Hare (Lepus nigricollis), also known as the Indian Hare, is a very widely distributed species of lagomorph native to South Asia. Introduced to several islands in the Indian Ocean, it has managed to proliferate and flourish despite the growing pressure exerted by human beings on its woodland-grassland habitat. Or maybe, because of them. It can be seen in agricultural fields, which have been created by clearing away the natural vegetation. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies it as a species of Least Concern. Given below is the species description on the website:

The Indian hare is distributed throughout India, except the high reaches of the Himalayas and mangrove areas within the Sundarbans in the state of West Bengal. The geographic distribution extends into eastern Pakistan, southern Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh excluding the Sundarbans (Flux and Angermann 1990). It is thought to occur in Bhutan as well, but exact locations are not known (Chakraborty et al. 2005). This species can be found at elevations ranging from 50-4,500 m (Chakraborty et al. 2005). This species has been introduced to many islands of the Indian Ocean; Mauritius, Gunnera Quoin, Anskya, Rèunion, and Cousin (Hoffmann and Smith 2005). Lepus nigricollis is considered native to Java by McNeely (1981), but its origin is considered uncertain by Hoffmann and Smith (2005). Lepus nigricollis is very common wherever they occur. However, the population in India is subjected to severe fragmentation due to expanding agricultural fields and pressure on forest in terms of fuel wood collection and sometimes illegal hunting.Lepus nigricollis can be seen in wide variety of habitats such as short grasslands, barren agricultural fields, crop fields, and forest roads. The species can be seen in forests of many types other than the mangroves and tall grassland habitats. However, one can see the species adjacent to forest areas in agricultural fields.

It breeds throughout the year, but the peak breeding season is during the monsoon season (Flux and Angermann 1990). Litter size is one to four, but can be higher (Gurung and Singh 1996). Forbs and grasses constitute the bulk of their diet (Flux and Angermann 1990). L. nigricollis is characterized as a shy species (Gurung and Singh 1996). It exhibits activity during crepuscular and nocturnal hours (Chakraborty et al. 2005). Total length is 33.0-53.0 cm (Corbet and Hill 1992).This species is hunted for meat, but is also removed to prevent crop damage (Flux and Angermann 1990). Major threats for Lepus nigricollis include habitat destruction and conversion of prime forest areas for agricultural purposes, as well as intensive hunting by locals for meat. Individual hares, especially the young ones living in the forest areas, are subjected to predation by carnivorous mammals and birds. L. nigricollis is also threatened by domestic predators, competition from livestock, and human set forest fires (Chakraborty et al. 2005).

A news report in The Hindu – ‘Do hares benefit from wind farms?’ (by Aathira Perinchery, dated August 25, 2018) indicates that human modifications of the environment may boost Black Naped Hare numbers. In the wind farms of Karnataka’s Davangere District, the density of hare populations was three times that in the surrounding woodlands (three hares per hectare for wind farms versus one per hectare for the surrounding forest). What could be the reason for this unusual development? One clue is the devastating impact wind mills have on avian predators of the Black Naped Hare. The gigantic blades seem to create a no-go zone for birds of prey. With their aerial predators gone, the hares face fewer dangers when it comes to exploiting their habitat. However, the findings of the study, carried out by a team from Coimbatore’s Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, is not conclusive. Given below is the news report that was published by The Hindu:

With their tall turbines and rotating blades, wind farms often take the lives of bats and birds. But windmills could be life-savers for black-naped hares, suggests a preliminary study. Researchers find that these hares use a wind farm much more than forested areas in remote Karnataka. Wind energy was long touted as ‘green’ until scientists began quantifying its various ecological costs, including the direct toll it takes on wildlife. Birds and bats often collide with the blades of wind turbines resulting in their death. Studies show that some groups of birds – such as birds of prey – avoid wind farms altogether. While conducting research on the impact on birds and bats in a wind farm located in the Harada reserve forest (a scrub jungle in Karnataka’s Davangere district) that the team from Coimbatore’s Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) noticed an odd thing: signs of black-naped hare (Lepus nigricollis) in the reserve forest where the turbines were present were numerous, evident from the small, berry-like faecal pellets that they left behind on the wind farm while using the area. Could these little mammals be using the wind farm region more than the forest area where there were no wind turbines?

To find out, the team consisting of doctoral researcher V. Anoop and scientists P. R. Arun and Rajah Jayapal devised a simple field study to analyse the number of fresh hare pellets on the ground in the wind farm and forest as a sign of how intensely the animals used these areas. They counted pellets in 32 rectangular plots in each habitat type. Their results show that the hares did use the wind farms more than they did the forests without wind turbines. According to their simple density calculations, the wind farm had around three hares per hectare while the reserve forests supported at least one hare per hectare. “But this is not a positive result,” said Mr. Anoop, author of the study published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa. “It suggests that hares are deviating from the norm and using a human-altered landscape more than their natural habitats” Why could this be happening? The presence of the wind turbines could be eliminating aerial predators such as birds of prey. “Or, it could just be the fact that windmill installations set amongst natural vegetation structurally mimic the forest openings and edges, which are normally preferred by the hares,” said Mr. Anoop. “We hope to study this further. Though wind turbines have been installed in India since 1984, there are not enough studies on how they affect wildlife.”

The Black Naped Hare seems to be one of the many species that have not only benefited from the expansion of human beings in the Indian subcontinent but also spread across the globe. I have already mentioned a few others (like the Nilgai and the Small Asian Mongoose).

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a Black Naped Hare. It was uploaded by N A Nazeer.

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