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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 7, 2002 - Issue 69


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How to Scare a Bear

Tewa Legend
BunnyLong ago and far away this did not happen. On top of Red Rock Hill, lived a little rabbit. Prickly pears were his favorite food, and every day he would hunt for them along the east bank of the Rio Grande. Eventually he ate all the prickly pears on that bank, so he cast his hungry eyes across the river. He said to himself, "I'll bet plenty of them grow over there. Now, how am I going to get across the river to look?"

The rabbit knew the river was too deep and too wide for him to swim on his own, and he sighed, "Oh, how I wish that Uncle Fast Water, who moves the current, were here to take me across."

Fast Water heard and replied, "Child, I'm lying right here. What can I do for you?"

The little rabbit leaped toward the sound, "Uncle, so this is where you live!"

"Yes, this is the place," said his uncle. "What kind of work do you want from me?"

"I want to cross the river to pick prickly pears, but the water is too deep and too wide for me. Will you help me get across?"

Fast Water agreed, so the little rabbit sat on top of his head. "Splash! Splash! Splash!" went the water, and quickly the two were on the other side. "Be sure and call me when you want to come back," Fast Water said when they landed.

The rabbit wanted to get home before night fell, so he wasted no time but went right to picking and eating prickly pears.

BearThen Brother Bear appeared. "Little Rabbit!"

"Yes, Brother Bear?"

"My! What a pretty necklace you have."

"Yes, isn't it?"

I want to make a bet with you for that necklace," said Brother Bear. "I'm willing to bet my red necklace for yours. If I win, you'll give me yours, and if you win, I'll give you mine." Little rabbit agreed, and they arranged to meet at noon the next day in the same spot.

That afternoon the little rabbit returned to the river, and his uncle easily carried him back across the water.

"Tomorrow you must wait for me, Uncle. I have placed a bet with Brother Bear, and I'll need you to carry me across the river again!"

I'll wait for you," replied his uncle. "I know you'll win."

BunnyThe next day the little rabbit got up early and hurried to meet Brother Bear. Because of his early start, he arrived first and decided to stroll in the woods. As he was hopping around, he spotted an old horse bell that still had a dried-up piece of leather tied to it. He hung it around his neck, and with each jump the bell went "Clank! Clank!" The little rabbit said to himself, "I think this bell will come in very handy with Brother Bear." And he hid the bell carefully in the woods.

When noon came, Brother Bear appeared. "You're here early," he said.

"Yes," answered the little rabbit, but he said nothing more.

The two picked a place in the dense wooded area to have their contest. Then Brother Bear made a circle on the ground with a stick.

"Little Rabbit, you can go first," said Brother Bear.

"Oh, no," said the little rabbit. "You wanted to bet, and you should go first."

"Yes, I'll go first. I'll bet you I'm the braver of us two. See that circle? You sit in it, and if you move even a little from where you're sitting I win."

Little Rabbit said down, and Brother Bear took off into the woods. A few minutes later the rabbit heard strange sounds:



"I know that's Brother Bear," thought the little rabbit. "He's trying to scare me, but I won't move.

Closer and closer came the strange sounds. Suddenly, with a crash a great big tree came tumbling down and barely missed the little rabbit.

Bear"You moved! You moved! I saw you move!" shouted Brother Bear.

"No, I don't move. Come and see for yourself," answered the rabbit.

Brother bear couldn't find any foot marks and had to agree that the little rabbit had not moved at all.

Little Rabbit said to Brother Bear, "Now you must sit in this circle as I did in yours." The rabbit drew a circle, and Brother Bear sat in it.

Leaving Brother Bear sitting in the circle, the rabbit headed into the woods. He just put the old horse bell around his neck and headed toward the place where Brother Bear was waiting.

After he had hopped a few steps, the little rabbit stopped, rang the horse bell, and sang:

Ah nana-na--------Ah nana-na------
Is cha-nay------Cha nana-ne------
Coo ha ya
Where are you sitting, my bear friend?

When Brother Bear head this, he thought, "That's not my friend Little Rabbit. This is something else altogether."

Coming closer to the circle where Brother Bear was sitting, the little rabbit rang his horse bell louder and sang his song once more.

Brother Bear, growing really frightened, stood up and ran. The little rabbit jumped out and called, "You've lost! Let me have your necklace!"

Laughing BunnyAs the story goes, the little rabbit defeated the Brother Bear. And today if you see a rabbit around Tewa country, and if he has a red ring around his neck, you can be sure that the rabbit is descended from the little rabbit who won Brother Bear's pretty red necklace.

--Translated from the Tewa by Alfonso Ortiz

Print and Color Your Own Jackrabbit


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Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)

Jackrabbit ready to springGeographic Range
Nearctic: Lepus californicus ranges over all of the southwestern United States into Mexico, east to Missouri and north into Washington, Idaho, Colorado and Nebraska, west to California and Baja California

Physical Characteristics: Mass: 1 to 3 kg.

Our largest hare, black-tailed jackrabbits measure about 47-63 cm from nose to rump, the tail is between 50-112 mm and the ears are 10-13 cm long. As it is a true hare, the black-tailed jackrabbit is lankier and leaner than a rabbit, has longer ears and legs, and its leverets are born fully-furred and open-eyed. The black-tailed jackrabbit posses a characteristic black stripe down the center of its back, a black rump patch, and its tail is black dorsally. Both sexes look alike, but the female is the larger of the two sexes.

Natural History
Food Habits
Grasses and herbaceous matter are the preferred foods of Lepus californicus, but twigs and young bark of woody plants are the staple food when other plants are not available. Sagebrush and cacti are also taken. Jackrabbits eat constantly and consume large quantities relative to their size; 15 jackrabbits eat as much as a large grazing cattle in one day. Blacktails do not require much water and obtain nearly all the water they need from the plant material they ingest.

Breeding season for Lepus californicus extends from December through September in Arizona and from late January to August in California and Kansas. Females produce 3 or 4 litters annually with 1-6 leverets (generally 3 or 4) after a 41-47 day gestation period. The young are precocial; females only nurse their offspring for 2-3 days and are not seen with their young after that time. Lifespan in captivity is 5-6 years, but rabbits in the wild often die much sooner due to predation, disease or problems associated with overpopulation.

As with all hares, blacktails rely on speed and camouflage (along with the characteristic "freeze" behavior) for their defense. When flushed from cover, a blacktail can spring 20 feet at a bound and reach top speeds of 30-35 mph over a zigzag course. Black-tailed jackrabbits do not generally occupy burrows: rather, they dig shallow depressions in the earth in which to lay. Black-tailed jackrabbits are mainly unsociable but are driven to common food sources in periods of drought. They are inactive during the hot afternoon hours and are mainly nocturnal, resting under bushes by day. Home ranges in California average 20ha (dependent upon population density), with females having larger ranges than males.

Black-tailed jackrabbits inhabit desert scrubland, prairies, farmlands and dunes and moors. They favor arid regions and areas of short grass rangeland from sea level to about 3,800 m. Many different vegetation types are used, including sagebrush-creosote bush, mesquite-snakeweed and juniper-big sagebrush. They also frequent the agricultural land in California where they are a major pest of crops and fruit trees.

Biomes: temperate grassland, chaparral, desert

Jackrabbit in motionEconomic Importance for Humans
As with many other Lepus species, L. californicus has been widely used as food for humans, especially by Native Americans. Their fur is not durable nor valuable, but it has been extensively used in the manufacture of felt and as trimming and lining for garments and gloves.

Due to the removal by European settlers of its natural predators such as the coyote and kit fox, the black-tailed jackrabbit has undergone incredible population explosions in which crops, orchards and rangelands have suffered. They do considerable damage to farms, forest plantations and young trees.

Conservation Status: no special status

Populations of black-tailed jackrabbits are quite high despite ranchers' and farmers' attempts at culling their populations through herding and slaughter. Large herding attempts have netted as much as 20,000 hares at a time, and population densities often reach 100 animals per square km. As with many hares, Lepus californicus populations undergo drastic fluctuations in regular cycles every 9-10 years. Populations increase to great abundance and then suddenly decline for unknown reasons. In some years more then 90 per cent of the western populations die from tularemia, which may or may not be related to the population cycling phenomenon. Because of their incredible fecundity, blacktail numbers quickly recover, however.

Other Comments
Jackrabbits obtained their name from early settlers of the Southwest who, noting the animal's extraordinarily long ears, dubbed it "jackass rabbit." This name was later shortened to jackrabbit. This species has 17 subspecies which fall into two groups separated by the Colorado river, Lepus californicus texianus in the east and L. c. californicus in the west.


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