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The rock hyrax

Procavia capensis


The rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) or rock badger, also called the Cape hyrax and commonly referred to in South African English as the dassie, is one of the four living species of the order Hyracoidea, and the only living species in the genus Procavia. Like all hyraxes, it is a medium-sized (~4 kg) terrestrial mammal, superficially resembling a guinea pig with short ears and tail. The closest living relatives to hyraxes are the modern-day elephants and sirenians. The rock hyrax is found across Africa and the Middle East, in habitats with rock crevices in which to escape from predators. It is the only extant terrestrial afrotherian in the Middle East. Hyraxes typically live in groups of 10–80 animals, and forage as a group. They have been reported to use sentries: one or more animals take up position on a vantage point and issue alarm calls on the approach of predators.

The rock hyrax has incomplete thermoregulation and is most active in the morning and evening, although their activity pattern varies substantially with season and climate. Over most of its range, the rock hyrax is not endangered, and in some areas is considered a minor pest. In Ethiopia, Israel and Jordan, they have been shown to be a reservoir of the leishmaniasis parasite.

Fun Facts

Ecology and behaviour

Rock hyraxes build dwelling holes in any type of rock with suitable cavities such as sedimentary rocks and soil. In Mount Kenya, rock hyraxes live in colonies comprising an adult male, differing numbers of adult females and immatures. They are active during the day, and sometimes during moonlit nights.The dominant male defends and watches over the group. The male also marks its territory. In Africa, hyraxes are preyed on by leopards, Egyptian cobras, puff adders, rock pythons, caracals, wild dogs, hawks, and owls.Verreaux's eagle in particular is a specialist hunter of hyrax.

Captive rock hyraxes make more than 20 different noises. In a study of their social networks, it was found that hyraxes that live in more "egalitarian" groups, in which social associations are spread more evenly among group members, survive longer.  In addition, hyraxes are the first non-human species in which structural balance was described. They follow the "the friend of my friend is my friend" rule, and avoid unbalanced social configurations. 

Adults make use of at least 21 different vocal signals. The most familiar signal is a high trill, given in response to perceived danger. Rock hyrax calls can provide important biological information such as size, age, social status, body weight, condition, and hormonal state of the caller, as determined by measuring their call length, patterns, complexity, and frequency. More recently, researchers have found rich syntactic structure and geographical variations in the calls of rock hyraxes, a first in the vocalization of mammalian taxa other than primates, cetaceans, and bats. Higher ranked males tend to sing more often, although the energetic cost of singing is relatively low. 

The rock hyrax spends approximately 95% of its time resting. During this time, they can often be seen basking in the sun, which is thought to be an element of their complex thermoregulation.


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