Showsight Presents The Harrier

You see, humans have been creating new ani- mals through engineered evolution for millennia. Rather than nature selecting for survival traits through random mutations, man has been capital- izing on minute genetic variations within animals for as long as we have been domesticating them. That’s how the huge wild aurochs that once roamed Europe eventually became placid domestic cattle and mild-mannered dairy cows of today. The British Isles went wild over the past few centuries creating and perfecting breeds of dogs to fill sometimes very tiny niches in working abili- ty. These original sportsmen and huntsmen first looked at the specific game they were wanting to hunt as well as the terrain in which they would be hunted, and then crafted their dogs to best fit that niche. Simply look at the breeds in the Sporting Before Charles Darwin so dramatically changed the world with his brilliant masterpiece, “On the Origin of Species”, his background in British field sports and hunting gave him insight into the whole concept of “evolution”. HARRIERS The Evolution of they are quite different. And it is these very differ- ences that Harriers and Beagles were created to match. While rabbits and hares are in the same order (lagomorpha) and family (leporidae), they differ in genus. Hares are in the lepus classification with rabbits being in several different genera; sylvilagus and oryctolagus are the most common. Both hares and rabbits are very fertile and By Donna Smiley-Auborn

reproduce easily and often, as is required of suc- cessful prey species. However, hares do not have burrows below ground but rather have shallow depressions on top of the ground where they hun- ker down overnight. They therefore give birth to young that are born fully furred with eyes open and ready to run. Hares also tend to be bigger than rabbits, with larger ears, legs and rear feet. On the other hand, rabbits give birth to blind, naked, helpless babies in cozy fur-lined nests, bur- rows and tunnels dug underground. Beagles were crafted to hunt rabbits, as they are a smaller, slower Hound than the Harrier. They pursue rabbits tirelessly, but not with excessive speed, because when a rabbit is pushed too hard or fast it will bolt down a hole in a split second, thereby ending the chase. Harriers were developed to be a perfect match for hares, which are larger and faster and without any burrows for escape. Rabbits are overmatched with Harriers, and Beagles are usually too small to be very successful with the larger, faster hares. Hares and rabbits both tend to run in large cir- cles when pursued, most covering several acres or more of their home territory. When hunted, they don’t bolt for miles as do foxes or coyotes, but rather they will eventually circle back to near where they started.

Group, where British breeds predominate, and you will see this creativity. Broad categories include Setters, Pointers, Flushers & Retrievers, with each group crafted to perform a very specif- ic job in regards to hunting feathered game. And within those broad groups, there is even more specialization. For example, Cocker Spaniels were created for hunting woodcock, and the larg- er English Springer Spaniels were crafted to “spring” gamebirds into the air to be either shot or taken with a falcon. Similar specialization is also seen in the Scent Hounds. So to understand some of the very basic differences that led to the creation of Harriers and Beagles for hunting packs, you must first under- stand their intended quarry. To the general public, “rabbits” and “hares” are interchangeable as they both bring to mind cute, furry hopping creatures with big ears. In reality,

96 • S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE • F EBRUARY 2010

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