Hispid hare Caprolagus hispidus is one of the less studied endangered small mammal species in the world. Hispid hare distribution includes the tropical grassland ecosystem in Nepal. Grassland fire is one of the management regimes used in this region and its impact on biodiversity is controversial. We investigated the diet and habitat use of hispid hare before and after a grassland fire at Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve (SWR) in Nepal. Fecal pellets were used for micro-histological analysis to understand hispid hare diet. We laid out sampling plots in areas where we encountered hispid hare sign and recorded habitat and vegetation information. We also looked for signs of hare presence along systematically positioned transect lines and used these data to assess the population status of hispid hare. Population density of hispid hare was 5.76 individuals/km2 and we estimated a population size of 219 ± 40 hispid hare within the 41 km2 grasslands of SWR. Hispid hare primarily used tall grassland habitat. Nineteen plant species were identified in hispid hare pellets with Saccharum spontaneum and Imperata cylindrica having the highest frequency of occurrence. There were no significant differences in the distribution of plant species in the pellets before and after the fire; however a significantly higher diversity of plants were recorded in hispid hare diet after the fire. We recommend a change to the timing of grass burning to either before or after the hispid hare breeding season to reduce the direct (burning, destruction of nests) and indirect (increased risk of predation) negative effects of such grassland management on hare populations. Population management strategies and a field based conservation captive breeding program should be implemented immediately to maintain a viable population of hispid hare in SWR.
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Vol. 37 • No. 2