Namibia’s kangaroo: the springhare - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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Namibia’s kangaroo: the springhare

Avatar of inke inke - 22. May 2018 - Environment

Springhares move around on their powerful long hind legs, like kangaroos use the long tail for balancing and dig for food with their short forelimbs. They are nocturnal animals and spend the day in the safety of their burrow.

Dirk Heinrich

Armed with handheld searchlights and torches it is nightly entertainment for youngsters on a farm to try and catch springhares (Pedetes capensis). These rodents measure around 40 centimetres, disregarding the tail, and their eyes can be seen glowing in the dark from afar. Blinded by the light shone at them they flee across the open grass plain hopping on their hind legs like kangaroos. When their pursuers run out of breath others jump from the bakkie (pickup) to continue the chase. Usually the springhares make it to their burrows but some will be caught. In order to get hold of one it is important to grab it by its long tail. Springhares are well equipped to defend themselves: with their large incisors and long, strong claws on their hind feet they are able to inflict painful wounds on their adversaries. 

After the fun of catching a springhare it is released again. For others, however, especially San communities in arid areas like the Kalahari, springhares represent an important food source. A sort of fishing rod is made by tying pliable sticks together and attaching a pointed hook to one end. This implement, which may be up to 15 metres long, is then pushed into a springhare burrow in an attempt to get the quarry onto the hook and pull it out. Best use is made of the whole animal: every edible part is eaten, the skin is turned into a bag or a piece of clothing and the long tendons in the tail become strings on a hunting bow. 

There are only two springhare species. The South African springhare is found all over southern Africa, while the range of the East African springhare (Pedetes surdaster) is limited to Kenya and Tanzania.  

In Namibia springhares occur on open sandy plains almost everywhere other than the Namib Desert. Their diet consists mainly of green grass in summer and short grasses in winter as well as seeds, but in the dry season they also dig for roots and tubers. Springhares do not need to drink water, their food provides sufficient moisture. They are nocturnal and therefore lose much less water than animals which are active during the day. Due to their nocturnal life these extraordinary mammals are rarely seen by tourists.

Springhares spend the day in their tunnels underground, usually single or a female with her young. The burrow system also includes several escape routes. Springhares have many predators and must therefore be able to get into or out of their burrow in a flash. They move almost exclusively with their long, powerful hind legs, using the long tail for balancing, and with the forelimbs they dig for food. Their large eyes and ears enable them to see and hear well at night. 

Numerous fossils found in the Namib in the area between the Orange River and the Tsauchab show that a now extinct springhare species (Parapedetes namaquensis) existed some 16 million years ago. It was about two thirds of the size of today’s springhares. Some fossil remains of the prehistoric ancestor can be admired in the National Earth Science Museum at the Ministry of Mines and Energy.  

The springhare is called onkwiyu in Oshiwambo, sinkuyu in the Zambezi Region, springhaas in Afrikaans, onguyu in Otjiherero, nkwizu in the Kavango regions and ǂgōb in the Nama language. 

 

 

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