"One [Arctic hare] taken
by us... a few days after its birth, soon became
sufficiently tame to eat from our hands, and
was allowed to run loose about the cabin. During
the summer, we fed it on [native plants], and
stored [some for winter]; but it preferred to
share with us whatever our table could afford,
and would enjoy pease soup, plum pudding, bread,
barley soup, sugar, rice, and even cheese...
It could not endure to be caressed, but was exceedingly
fond of company, and would sit for hours listening
to a conversation... [H]e was a continual source
of amusement by his sagacity and playfulness...
[W]hen playing some of his pranks, he struck
his head against one the beams, and was ever
after, subject to fits. He lived and thrived
nevertheless throughout the winter, and died
in the following summer after 15 months' confinement".
- Ross 1835
Houdini was a male Arctic hare who escaped on a regular basis from this outdoor pen at the now-defunct captive breeding program at Salmonier Nature Park. Enlarge the photo to find out how he was caught!
Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) are known in the zoo world
for being very difficult to keep in captivity. Most die within
a short period after capture. Those that do survive usually
live for about a year and a half, which is much shorter than
their natural lifespan. (Animals in captivity normally live
longer than in the wild). Most attempts to keep and breed
them have failed.
The only place where hares have successfully been bred in
captivity is the Salmonier Nature Park south of St. John's,
Newfoundland and Labrador. Hares raised there in the 1980s
were released into their former range in the province. The
breeding program was successful, though the hares released
into the wild in Newfoundland were not.
Some Arctic hares raised for the release program in southern
Newfoundland were kept in a pen in
a back yard in Trepassey. During spring, the males literally
'climbed the walls' of the pen in an attempt to reach the
females in the neighbouring pen. A keeper recalls, "They
would climb up a six-foot [1.8 m] fence to try to get back
to where the females were and it was just amazing to watch
them. How they would fight and climb this fence. They could
climb this fence, unbelievable".