|At a Glance|
|Size||20-30cm height 40-60cm length|
|Conservation Status||Least Concern|
Rock Hyrax are generally small, furry mammals with a robust body, no tail, short legs and small rounded ears. They have 4 toes on their front feet and 3 on the back. They have a rough brownish-grey coat with light patches above the eyes. There is a distinctive patch of long, black erectile hair, covering a glandular area, in the centre of the back.
Rock Hyrax are mainly diurnal, although may emerge to feed on warm, moonlit nights. They are sociable mammals, living in groups of 4 - 8, but larger groups of up to 50 may exist depending on available habitat. They are hopeless diggers so rely on a natural cavity in which to live. The size of their skull determines whether they will fit into a particular cavity; their rib-cage is semi-collapsible and they can squeeze through very small cracks in the rocks.
Their tactile vibrissae, in the form of whiskers, on their chin and upper lip, aid their eyesight in the dark of the cavities. Although they are mammals, they struggle to regulate their body temperature. Despite their thick fur they rely on lazing in the sun to heat themselves up. They usually become active after sunrise when they will move into the sun to warm up before going off to feed. They have to control their body temperature in the converse too; a few hours in the sun puts them in very real danger of heat stress and possible mortality, which is why cavities are a survival prerequisite. They can also counter overheating by stretching out with the hind feet upturned to expose their moist foot-pads. At night and on cold days they tend to stay huddled in their hideaway. They can also be seen "stacking", where they lie on top of one another, in layers, for warmth. They have a glandular patch on the back so this stacking is also useful for transmission of scent and imprinting.
The presence of Rock Hyrax is often made obvious by their use of latrines, leaving large quantities of pellets and the rocks become stained with white and brown from the urine. This is not believed to be for territorial reasons. The dominant male seems to defend his territory purely using audio and visual means, sitting in an exposed position and barking out his territorial call.
Rock Hyraxes are herbivorous although there is the odd account of them being omnivorous. Although most feeding is done on the ground, they are extremely good climbers and are often confused with Tree Hyrax because they are seen high in huge trees, feeding on leaves, bark and fruits. The moisture which is secreted on the pads of their feet assists with their able climbing.
Rock Hyraxes eat a wide variety of vegetation, including grasses, forbs, shrubs and the leaves of trees. They will eat plants that have very aromatic leaves and even some that are toxic to other animals. They have been known, at times, to eat bird's eggs, lizards and insects.
Rock Hyrax give birth to 2 or 3 babies after a gestation period of about 230 days., which is remarkably long for a creature of that size and suggests that they possibly used to be much larger in size. The babies are born in a protected crevice from December to February and are miniature replicas of the adults. After a few hours they are seen jumping around and after a few days they are eating solid food. The mother will still suckle them for a few months.
There are 4 species (and a number of sub-species) of Hyrax and they are found throughout most of Africa, and the Middle East as far as Turkey. There are 2 species in Southern Africa and both species are found in Krantzkloof Nature Reserve viz. the Rock Hyrax and the Southern Tree Hyrax (Dendrohyrax arboreus). The Rock Hyrax are widespread throughout Southern Africa but the Tree Hyrax only occur on the Eastern seaboard as far as Southern Mozambique but interestingly not in the Zululand area. The Rock Hyrax are by far the more commonly seen species in Krantzkloof.
Rock Hyraxes have a very wide range of habitats as they are highly adaptable. They are found in dry savannah, dense rainforest, high-altitude areas and coastal regions.
Rock Hyraxes are the favourite food of a wide range of predators ranging from Caracal and Black Mambas to Crowned Eagles.
Their best defence is to retreat into their rocky hideaways from where they can try to defend themselves.
In Krantzkloof Nature Reserve the Rock Hyrax population appears to have dwindled in recent years, although in the surrounding areas they are very common and it is speculated that they have developed a sweet tooth for common garden plants.
Rock Hyrax are common throughout the reserve wherever there are rocky areas.
There are some easily seen Rock Hyrax middens in the vertical cliff-faces on the Mpithi (Black) Trail, White Trail and on the Molweni (Yellow) Trail.
Are Hyrax really related to elephants?
Interestingly Hyrax share certain genetic and physical characteristics with elephants. In common with elephants, Hyrax have :
• no gall bladder
• no pleural space ( the lungs are attached to the rib cage)
• glands under their feet
• undescended testes; they stay up near the kidneys
• 2 upper incisors which are hollow rooted "tusks". These tusks are found only in the male Hyrax and they never stop growing, protruding from the lips and can be used to age a male Hyrax.
A video clip is available on YouTube.