The sun had long ago set, it was probably nearly 9 pm. Usually, we try not to drive at night because headlights, even brights, will only do so much when an antelope the size of a refrigerator decides his road-crossing must be done in front of your speeding car. But my flight got in late in the afternoon, and it’s three hours to get back to the farm. Staying in Windhoek wasn’t an option either; Jay and I both prefer the farm to the big city, especially when there are cats waiting for you.
The one good thing about driving at night is, although the wildlife is oblivious to mortality, they are active, and for the most part, it’s a whole other set of creatures than we normally get to see during the day. There’s the owls and night jars that hang out on the road and the jackals and rabbits that fling themselves into the road. On rare occasions, a porcupine or honey badger might waddle by. But this particular night held something in store that I never knew existed.
We had just come to the neighbors’ farm, only another 5 minutes to go, and the headlights captured movement ahead of us on the left. My eyes focused in on it; a small, reddish-brown furry thing, about the size of a big squirrel, with a long, black-tipped tail. And then it raised itself onto its lengthy hind legs and hopped away.
“Huh”, I said in my tired, travel-dulled state of mind, “I didn’t know Namibia had kangaroos”.
“Yeah”, answered Jay, “it’s a springhase (said shpring-HA-zeh). I don’t know what they’re called in English”.
“Oh. What’s a springhase?”
“It’s a rabbit. It just jumps on its hind legs.”
And there you go. I may not have seen an aardwolf, a desert lion, or a lechwe, but I have at least heard of them. Never, in my 6 years of traveling to, through, or living in this country, had I ever heard of a springhase. There was a brand new mammal in my world.
The next day I looked it up in my animal books, but found nothing. It didn’t help having only it’s German name but none of the pictures looked like what I saw. So I turned to the trusty internet and googled “springhase”. And there I learned, sensibly, that their English name is spring hare. But in the nonsensible world of naming animals, they aren’t actually a hare. They’re a rodent. But a very special one, as they are the only living genus and species of the family Pedetidae. Which may be why I’ve never heard of them.
If you haven’t already yet googled it yourself after buckling to curiosity, here’s a link to a site with some good pictures of the spring hare. I want you all to know though, that being the authentic blogger that I am, I went out that night, camera in hand, in an attempt to get my own photo of this unusual animal. Jay and Sniffeldog came too.
As we had never seen one on our farm, we drove back to the neighbors hoping they’d still be there. Jay hauled out the giant spotlight for more precise lighting and we called the neighbors to let them know that the weird flashing out front was just us trying to get a picture of their jumping rodents.
Each time eyeballs appeared in the distance, Jay zoomed forward and I snapped a photo. Here’s the winner from that chaotic series:
Which may just be a normal rabbit. Eventually we reached the end of the field and only thick bush lay ahead, which I had learned from my extensive internet research, was unsuitable spring hare habitat. So we turned around and headed for home, hoping for another glimpse.
When we saw more eyeballs, I leapt out of the car, determined to get a better picture. I landed, however, directly in a short, unseen thorn bush and got stuck while Jay sped ahead to keep them in sight. So while I was bumbling about with the bush, Jay got our object of pursuit directly in the spotlight as they slowly hopped away. By the time I freed myself and caught up to them, this was the best I could get:
So this authentic blogger and abysmal photographer is getting on with life in Namibia and wondering what other bizarre creatures are lurking in those bushes, waiting for fortuitous discovery.