Where do hyraxes live?
Hyraxes are very adaptable. In East Africa, they are found at sea level and at altitudes of more than 14,000 feet. Their habitats range from dry savannas to dense rain forests to cold Afro-alpine moorlands.
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What is a hyrax?
The hyrax, also called rock rabbit or dassie, is a small, furry mammal. It looks like a robust, oversized guinea pig, or a rabbit with rounded ears and no tail. Hyraxes have stumpy toes with hoof-like nails; there are four toes on each front foot and three on each back foot. The longer, claw-like nails on the inside toes of the back feet are used for grooming and scratching. The bottoms of the feet have a rubbery texture to assist in climbing steep rock surfaces and trees.
Of the three hyrax species, two are known as rock (or bush) hyrax and the third as tree hyrax. In the field, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate among them.
The rock hyrax has the widest distribution in East Africa. Its coat is yellowish- or grayish-brown, and the dorsal spot (a bare scent gland on the back covered with longer hair) is covered with black or yellow hair. Its head is more rounded than other types of hyraxes, and the nose is blunt.
The yellow-spotted hyrax, or rock rabbit, is smaller in size and has a more pointed, rodent-like nose. Generally, it has a conspicuous white patch above the eye, and its dorsal spot is whitish or yellowish. It is sometimes seen in company of other types of hyrax, but species do not interbreed.
Tree hyraxes, unsurprisingly, spend a lot of time in trees. In some areas, they are hunted for their thick, soft, long hair. They have a white or yellow dorsal spot.
They are nervous eaters.
Rock hyraxes spend several hours sunbathing in the mornings, followed by short feeding excursions. They eat quickly with the family group facing out from a circle to watch for potential predators, feeding on grasses, herbage, leaves, fruit, insects, lizards, and birds' eggs. After biting off a mouthful of grass or leaves, the hyrax looks up and cautiously checks the vicinity. If the territorial male gives the shrill shriek of alarm, the hyraxes jump or scuttle to cover where they remain frozen, without moving, until the danger has passed. They can go a long time without water, apparently obtaining enough moisture from their food. Tree hyraxes feed on leaves and fruits.
Rock hyraxes are more outgoing than tree hyraxes.
Rocky hyraxes do not dig burrows. They live in colonies of about 50 in the natural crevices of rocks or boulders. These groups typically consist of one territorial male and about 20 females and their young. Rocky hyraxes are active in the daytime and can be seen feeding or sunning themselves near the entrances to their shelters. The tree hyrax, on the other hand, is nocturnal and not as social as the rock hyrax. They are often found in pairs and will not form much larger groups.
They are potty-trained.
Hyraxes regularly use “latrines,” and in areas they inhabit, conspicuous white deposits from their urine form on rock faces.
They have an extraordinarily long pregnancy.
Hyraxes have a gestation period of seven or eight months, which is unusually long for an animal of its size. Infants are born so fully developed that they are able to run and jump an hour after birth. Although suckled until they are 3 months old, the young begin to eat vegetation by their second day. Rock hyraxes bear two or three young, while tree hyraxes have one—two at most.