It was a Saturday morning in March, when Alasdair and I were making a start on the gardens. A chilly but bright blue sky day. Alasdair called me over to the gravel filled ‘Cat Litter Bed’ as we call it outside his workshop on the main drive at the rear of the Farmhouse.
There below a leaf of a japanese anenome was a very well camouflaged leveret – a baby hare. I have no idea how he spotted it – he has eagle’s eyes!
We had never seen anything so tiny and cute. We could see it was breathing so knew it was still alive but not sure how it had survived the sharp frost of the night before. Before we did anything we decided to do some research. The gardening was on hold.
I found the Hare Preservation Trust website which seemed extremely informative and we read on. ” Usually, there are two to four in a litter, born above ground, fully furred with their eyes open. To avoid the entire litter being lost to predators they will separate to individual resting places known as a ‘form’. The Mother Hare usually feeds them morning and/or evening and will call to them when she arrives. By their nature and their feeding pattern, hares and leverets are more active between early evening to dawn.”
So that meant that maybe the mother hare would return and feed the baby later if we left well alone – so we did. It was an even colder frost that night but we hoped the mother would return to feed. In the morning we thought that the little hare would either be gone, eaten or dead from cold – but no it was in exactly the same place under the same leaf. Which meant that Mum had not come back – but at least it had survived. So what to do? I called Susan Sroka of the Hare Preservation Trust for advice. She suggested that if I could try to hand rear it then that was the best chance for the little creature. So we followed instructions to the letter.
We found a sturdy box and half filled it with a layer of fresh hay for a nest. Then gently put little ‘Harry’ into the hay and left him for a while in our quietest and warmest room to aclimitise.
Then when it had had a little while to adjust to it’s new surroundings I tried to give it something to eat. Susan recommended Beaphar Kitty Milk designed for orphan kittens but in the meantime while we ordered some she advised Harry had to settle for warmed evaporated milk diluted 50/50 with water. Never cow’s milk I was told. Our kind neighbouring farmer Isobel Kaye lent us some syringes to use. We had no teat for little Harry to suck on so had to very gradually teach him to lick his mouth of any spilt drops of liquid – which he started to do.
Further advise from Susan was to always wear the same top when approaching him so I became familiar and to sit him on a warm towel. Harry found his favourite feeding position was up my sleeve and sitting in the palm of my hand.
The next job was to do a regular weigh in at the same time each day to check progress. Susan warned that weight might vary so not to be alarmed if it dropped – which it did rather scarily. Harry started at 104 grams and dropped the next day to 94 g. Back up the next to 99g.
All knife edge stuff – but of course the more feeding I did the more we got to know each other. Harry started to wipe his nose with his paw and then start bolt upright and washed himself on my lap. The drips of evaporated milk were sticky on his fur. He even started to snuzzle into the crook of my arm and fall asleep after he was full.
My biggest concern as he became more confident was that he was becoming habituated and I was concerned when he was to be released that he would be too friendly with humans. Susan and I planned to meet with Harry somewhere near Leeds and she would take over the hand rearing and release him when he was fit. With hares she told me 8 weeks only before they were ready for release. Unlike rabbits hares do not make good pets. However cute they may appear they are decidedly wild animals.
Harry put on a few more grams after I gave him his first feed of Beaphar Kitty milk. During his morning feed he had sucked enthusiastically at the teat of the warm mixture and filled up his little tummy.
By the evening he was ready for his next feed and after a good portion of Kitty milk settled down for a snooze on my lap. After which I gently put him to bed.
It was the next morning when I came to see him I found the poor little creature dead in his bed. Alasdair and I were both shocked. I wondered what I had done wrong. I called Susan and she was very reassuring. ” It could be that mum knew there was something wrong and that’s why he was abandoned and its just been a matter of time. They don’t always show signs of problems…
He wouldn’t of feed well and been content and settled if you had done anything wrong and loosing a few grams wouldn’t of killed him. Also, we don’t know how long he had been left before you discovered him or what may have happened to his digestive system etc. ”
We also realised that it was very early in the year for a baby hare – mating usually only takes place in March – hence the famous boxing and phrase ‘Mad as a March Hare’.
All the same it was a very sad day. Uncanny how attached you can become to such a tiny wild creature. He had a proper burial in a box of hay in the woods behind the house and over the Albany Burn and the cat litter bed is now renamed ‘Harry’s bed’.