It was afternoon, not the best time for wildlife spotting. We were on a forest trail by the Wynn Nature Center outside Homer, Alaska. The first of us walked briskly around a bend, spotted a rabbit in a clearing, and froze.
The rabbit didn't flee. Perhaps it hadn't noticed him. Two more of us came tramping along, and Person One gestured for stealth. Obediently we froze, then sneaked forward to behold the rabbit noshing on a bush.
It was a young snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). Since it was summer, instead of the amazing white camouflage of winter, it had brown fur.
Except for its giant feet. Those were white, and huge. Pearly clodhoppers. The puny lagomorph had feet so big as to appear burdensome. How is a young animal supposed to survive and elude predators if it has to tote such feet?
Its feet were ready for winter, when their hugeness will enable it to race across snow like a lightning bolt. Then the giant feet make snow- shoes look like a brilliant idea instead of a terrible mistake.
It will need to race because it is so tasty and conveniently-sized, and lynxes and owls and hawks and wolves and coyotes and simply everybody will want to eat it. I assume it will know then that it needs to run away.
For this rabbit didn't seem concerned about eluding predators. It turned from the bush and looked at us with mild interest. It hopped awkwardly toward us and stared. “Oh, it's tame,” we thought. “It's probably wondering if we brought trail mix.” The rabbit hopped a little closer, surveyed us casually, and turned back to bite more leaves off the bush. Then it disappeared into a mass of bushes.
Back at the nature center we asked about the tame rabbit. They have no tame rabbit.
They said some young hares are properly alarmed by the sight of humans, and some just aren't. They also said hares are abundant now, on an upswing in their famously cyclical population curve. (In areas with lynx, hare population booms and busts are closely followed by lynx booms and busts.) That alleviated any worry that the bunny cluelessness we had witnessed portended an end to all bunnies, but didn't explain why some are so casual about people.
On YouTube, among many the hunting videos, you can find quite a few videos of such “eh, whatever” hares, often hopping through wilderness campsites, clad in brown fur with tremendous white feet.
What is it with these fools? People are notorious rabbit killers. We are monsters – fear us!
After we get a good look.