What I call a jackrabbit – those brown leggy critters that move like curly greased lightning across a field – is called a lièvre around these parts, or a European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) to give its proper name. I’ve seen them plenty of times. I saw these lièvre tracks in the fresh snow yesterday, unscrolling right next to an electrified fence like an erratic heartbeat. At the other end of this trail, right about where my phone camera succumbed to the cold, the hopper actually dared to cross the fence line, loop around a couple of times, and cross back exactly where it had gone in, as if it knew the location of the safe spot all along.
Hare populations were in steady decline up through the 1970s across Europe, and although the animal is considered common and not endangered for the most part, its presence is seen as in important indicator of overall environmental health. It is considered threatened in Switzerland due to habitat reduction, but changes in agricultural strategies – the planting of more winter wheat and better adapted cereal types, for example – might be one reason the hare population is not as low as it might be in other countries. The increased availability of better grains throughout winter might offset other losses due to habitat pressure, disease, predators and hunting.