Hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus)

Also known as: Assam rabbit
French: Lapin De L'Assam
Spanish: Conejo De Assam
GenusCaprolagus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 45 - 50 cm (2)
Tail length: 4 - 5 cm (2)
Ear length: 7 cm (3)
Weightc. 2.5 kg (4)

The hispid hare is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (2).

A shy and secretive mammal, the hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus) has distinctively short ears (2) (4) and, unlike other members of the Leporidae family, its hind legs are relatively stout, only just exceeding the length of the forelegs (4).

The fur of the hispid hare is blackish-brown on the back, paler brown on the chest and white on the belly (2). The fur on the upperparts is particularly coarse, hence this species’ nickname, the ‘bristly rabbit’, while the fur on the underparts is short and soft (4). The tail is completely brown, although it is slightly darker above (4) (6). It has strong, straight claws (3).

The hispid hare’s range once spanned north-eastern India, southern Nepal and northern Bangladesh. However, this species is now restricted to small isolated pockets in southern Nepal and northern India (7).

The Royal Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal is believed to hold the largest breeding population of the hispid hare (7).

This species generally occurs in grassland, as well as sub-Himalayan sal forest (a type of forest which is dominated by Shorea robusta, an East Indian timber tree) (6).

The hispid hare relies heavily on vegetative cover and is intolerant of disturbance. As such, it is rarely found outside the shelter of the tall grassland habitats of its range (8). However, occasionally the hispid hare may be driven from the cover of grassland to the edges of human settlements or to confined areas of forest in the foothills, although this generally occurs only when monsoon rains have left the grassland waterlogged and uninhabitable (4) (6).

Similarly, cutting and burning, a method of grassland management, results in temporary displacement of the hispid hare from its usual habitat to cultivated fields and the embankments of dried-up streams (4) (6).

Very little is known about the hispid hare, and its elusive nature makes studying this enigmatic mammal very difficult (2). It usually lives in burrows, but typically does not construct the burrow itself, instead occupying those made by other burrowing animals (3).

Although the hispid hare is not gregarious, it has been observed living in pairs. Breeding takes place in late winter, around January and February, with young most commonly seen from January to March (2) (4) (6). Usually, the female hispid hare gives birth to a litter of two or three young, in heavily concealed clumps of grass (2).

The diet of the hispid hare is believed to consist of grass, shrubs and roots, and occasionally cultivated crops (2).

The hispid hare is restricted to small, isolated fragments of habitat across much of its range, largely due to habitat destruction for agriculture and human settlement, the annual cutting and burning of grassland, and overgrazing (6).

During the cutting and burning season at the start of the year, the hispid hare is driven into less suitable habitat, which can leave it exposed and vulnerable to predation from animals such as the jackal (Canis aureus), the crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela), and even domestic dogs (2) (8). The hispid hare is persecuted by local people in the belief that it causes damage to crops, and it is also hunted for food (4).

The isolation of small, local populations of the hispid hare further increases its vulnerability and the probability of extinction due to chance events. It may also be vulnerable to the loss of genetic variation caused by inbreeding (9).

The hispid hare is listed on Appendix I of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that trade in this species in prohibited (5). It is also listed on Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, and on Schedule 1 of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Measures Act 1973 in Nepal (1). The Royal Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal, which holds the largest breeding population of the hispid hare, is a protected area (7).

There is still much that is unknown about this elusive species, and thus continued fieldwork has been recommended to determine the current population status of the hispid hare, identify potential threats, and develop conservation actions and mitigation measures to ensure the continued survival of this species (1).

Find out more about the hispid hare:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2011)
  2. Shrestha, T.K. (1997). Mammals of Nepal: with reference to those of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Pakistan. R.K. Pinters, Teku, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  3. MacDonald, D.W. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World - 6thEdition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Maryland.  
  5. CITES (August, 2011)
  6. Chapman, J.A. and Flux, J.E.C. (1990) Rabbits, Hares and Pikas - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  7. Peet, N.B., Watkinson, A.R., Bell, D.J. and Kattel, B.J. (1999) Plant diversity in the threatened sub-tropical grasslands of Nepal. Biological Conservation, 88: 193-206.
  8. Peet, N.B., Watkinson, A.R., Bell, D.J. and Sharma, U.R. (1999) The conservation management of Imperata cylindrical grassland in Nepal with fire and cutting: an experimental approach. Journal of Applied Ecology, 36: 374-387.
  9. Frankham, R., Ballou, J.D. and Briscoe, D.A. (2004) A Primer of Conservation Genetics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.