North African hares are currently considered belonging to cape hares (Lepus capensis), except for an isolated occurrence of L. victoriae in NW Algeria. However, the few existing molecular data are not unequivocal. Here, we study sequence variation (415 bp) in the hypervariable domain-1 of the mitochondrial (mt) control region, of hares with different coat colour from north-central Tunisia and NW Egypt, to test Petter's [(1959): Elements d'une revision des Lievres africains du sous-genre Lepus. Mammalia 23, 41-67] hypothesis that North African hares belong to L. capensis. Seven Tunisian and one Egyptian haplotypes were revealed from 28 hares and compared phylogenetically to 245 haplotypes of various Lepus species downloaded from GenBank. Neighbour joining (NJ) and principal coordinate (PCO) analyses based on a Tamura-Nei 93 distance matrix, as well as maximum parsimony (MP) analysis concordantly grouped all currently obtained haplotypes together into one monophyletic clade, and revealed relatively close relationships to the clades of African scrub hares (L. saxatilis) and brown hares (L. europaeus). The three distinguished coat colour types of Tunisian hares were paralleled only to a small extent by sequence differentiation. Haplotypes of L. capensis from the nominal Cape province of South Africa, North Africa, and China clustered into different major clades, respectively, with Chinese L. capensis haplotypes forming only a subclade within a major clade that encompassed predominantly "mountain/arctic hare-type sequences" in addition to sequences of several other palaearctic and nearctic species. One further Chinese L. capensis haplotype clustered into the L. comus clade. These results indicated occurrence of introgression and/or shared ancestral polymorphism. Such an evolutionary scenario implies using nucelar markers in addition to mtDNA for phylogenetic inferences in the genus Lepus; nevertheless, mtDNA is still useful for inferring phylogenetic history and biogeography of hares. (c) 2006 Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Saugetierkunde. Published by Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.