Did you know that Easter Bunnies, like Bugs Bunny are actually Hares? For centuries hares have been associated with the magical and mystical and the story of the Easter Bunny is itself a magical story.
- The first Easter Egg is recorded in 1280.
- Eggs in the fields were believed by farmers to hatch into leverets, which are born fully furred and active while rabbits are born naked and helpless.
- The Hare was associated with the moon goddess, probably because hares are particularly visible on moon-lit nights.
- The cunning hare of Aesop figured in the traditions of West Africa.
- Slaves brought from West Africa into the New World took their folk-stories with them and the African hare stories became our old favourite, Brer Rabbit.
- Brer Rabbit, like Bugs Bunny is, in fact, a North American Jack Rabbit, which are actually hares.
- In Watership Down the imagery has come full circle – the rabbits are more like Bugs Bunny than Peter Rabbit, Flopsy and Mopsy et al. of Beatrix Potter
Although Rabbits are a pest in many parts of the World, European Brown Hares are declining over most of England, and in other countries several close relatives are rare or endangered, such as:
- the Sumatran Rabbit
- the Mexican Volcano Rabbit
- Assamese Hispid Hare
- Ethiopian Hare
The Patagonian Hare – not a Hare at all
In South America, the Patagonian Hare, which is quite unrelated to the real rabbits and hares, fills the same ecological niche and happens to look rather 'bunny-like'. The Patagonia Hare, or Mara, is, in fact, a large rodent more closely related to the Guinea Pig and Giant Capybara. Sadly, their numbers are declining too.
The World Land Trust, working with the Fundación Patagonia Natural, have purchased and created a 15,000 acre nature reserve in the coastal steppes of Patagonia, where species such as the Mara abound, and can live in peace. You can help protect these animals by making a donation to the World Land Trust.
As you eat your Easter Egg this year give a thought to the strange tradition that all began with the idea that bunnies hatched out of eggs!
This is an extract from an article by John Burton, CEO of the World Land Trust, who has hand-reared several European Brown Hares and has an extensive collection of hare-related objects and images. You can read the full article here.