Rock Hyrax Fact File
What looks like a rabbit but its closest relative is the elephant?
That would be Africa’s rock hyrax. These small mammals are found across much of the southern and northern portion of the continent. As their name suggests they are found in rocky areas in groups of up to 80 members.
Want to learn about the appearance, diet, habitat, range, lifespan, breeding, behavior and more of the rocky hyrax? Well read on.
The rock hyrax looks similar in appearance to a large guinea pig despite its closest living relative being the elephant. They have short, rounded ears.
Across their back the rock hyrax has short brown or grey fur with a lighter underbelly. Sticking out among the short fur are a number of longer hairs which help them to feel their way around.
Their legs are short with rounded toes. The inner toe on the back foot has a long nail and is known as the grooming claw. On the front foot they have four toes and on the back they have three toes.
Hyraxes have a nictitating membrane (a special eyelid) which helps protect against sun or dust. A bulge exists in the iris which acts as a built-in sun visor.
A rock hyrax will have a single pair of tusk-like incisors.
This species lacks a tail.
Male hyraxes have larger noses than females. A male will also tend to weigh more than the female being 4kg (8.8lbs) compared to 3.6kg (7.9lbs) for the females.
Their body measures between 30.5 and 55cm long (12-21.65in).
The rock hyrax is a herbivore. Their diet is made up of leaves, wood, forbs, shrubs, bark and fruit. Grasses make up a substantial portion of their diet. This makes up around 50% of their diet during winter and around 75% in summer.
Feeding occurs in two main sessions one a few hours after sunrise and the other before sunset.
They eat quickly and efficently. This allows them to reduce the amount of time they spend in the open exposed to predators.
Rock hyraxes require very little water. Their kidneys are highly efficient to help reduce water loss.
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Africa is the native home of the rock hyrax. Here they can be found broadly in two populations one in the South and the other in the North of the country. This northern population also extends through the Middle East.
This species occurs in the following countries – Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, The Democratic Republic of the, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, United Republic of, Togo, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Their current presence in Mali and Syria is considered uncertain.
The rock hyrax can be found in a wide range of habitats such as deserts, rainforest, cliffs, mountain peaks, savanna and shrubland.
They are most often associated with rocky areas such as outcrops, cliffs and boulders.
Their range can often overlap with that of the bush hyrax.
Shelter is sought in crevices or spaces in rocks which provide the cover that they need. They may form a nest lined with grass here.
Breeding takes place during spring and is synchronized with the rainy season across much of their range. Males manage a harem of between 3 and 7 females with which he will breed.
Females give birth to between 1 and 4 offspring after a 6-8 month gestation period. Birthing tends to occur at night. Infants are highly developed at birth.
After birth the young are licked clean and then climb on to the back of their mother. This is though to keep them warm. Within 1 hour of birth they can run and jump.
To acquire the bacteria needed for their stomach to digest plants a rock hyrax will eat the poop of an adult hyrax.
Weaning occurs after 10 weeks but they are already eating food by their second day.
Sexual maturity is reached at one year old for both genders. Adult size and weight does not tend to be reached until three years old.
Rock hyraxes can move effortlessly over rocks due to sweat glands and muscles on their feet which work like suction cups.
This species will form a colony with up to 80 individuals. These groups may include a range of smaller families. Typically a single male will be dominant in the group but he will allow other males to be part of the group.
Most of the colony will forage while a few members of the group keep watch for predators. If one approaches they will emit a loud warning cry.
A group of rock hryax will maintain a latrine where they all use the toilet. These are noticeable due to conspicuous white deposits which come from their urine.
Activity tends to be concentrated in the morning and evening with basking taking place during the day.
Rock hyraxes have poor control over their temperature and when it is cold they will huddle together for warmth.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the rock hyrax include African wild dogs, cats such as leopards, servals, caracals and the African lion, jackals, mongooses, birds of prey such as the verreaux’s or martial eagles, owls and snakes such as the puff adder or pythons.
Humans pose no major threat to the rock hyrax at present. Small numbers are hunted for food, skins and sport. In parts of their range they are subject to control measures as populations have increased in cultivated areas.
Rock hyraxes have many alternative names including the rock rabbit and rock dassie. Their nicknames include pimbi, stone badger, coney and klipdas.
Hyraxes have existed for millions of years with ancient hyraxes being the side of a modern tapir.
One of the closest relatives of the rock hyrax is elephants and manatees. ‘
The word hryax comes from the Greek for “shrewmouse.”
During biblical times this species was referred to as “conies” and the species is referenced in the Bible.
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By Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography,
CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68629436
By Anagoria – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37259721
By Derkarts – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14534104
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