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Mad March Irish Hares

They may look like rabbits, but in fact these animals are hares. But not ordinary hares! Take another look at the photos...

Notice the shorter, rabbit-like ears, and the honey-blond coloured fur.  These are Irish Hares (Lepus timidus hibernicus).  They were thought to be a sub-species of the Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus), however research by Natural Heritage Research Partnership showed they may be an entirely separate species.  They could be Irelands only endemic mammal - found nowhere else in the world.

Recent estimates by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency put the Irish Hare population at around 40,000, but this could be highly optimistic.  Despite this, the Irish Hare can still be legally hunted.  The introduction of the Brown Hare has created an added threat.  Conservationists are concerned that the Brown hares could interbreed with Irish hares causing their local extinction.

These ones were photographed by Elizabeth Close in County Down, but according to the Ulster Wildlife Trusts, one of the best places to spot Irish hares is at Belfast International Airport (hareport?), where they can sometimes be seen passing through the long stay car park.

More info at: UK Safari Irish Hares Fact File

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