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African Hyraxes

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Rock hyraxes (Heterohyrax brucei) are found in most of East Africa.
Unbelievable as it may seem at first glance, these rather dull looking, medium-small, brownish-grey mammals are the closest living relatives to elephants and dugongs (sea-cows).

Many hyrax characteristics are elephantine: toenail-like claws which are really hoofs; two teats between the forelegs and another four in a more anterior position; internal testicles, a long gestation period of seven months which is remarkable for such a small beast; and a somewhat mysterious gland which is active during states of arousal. Hyrax feet are shod with rubbery pads which sweat when running. Hyraxes have rudimentary tails and numerous long, tactile hairs over their bodies.

They inhabit kopjes in bushed and wooded grassland, although cliffs and rock faces form the centre of the rock hyrax’s home range, from where they graze on the grassland surrounding the kopje. Tree hyraxes live in evergreen forests.

Territorial males may call on moonlit nights. Their most dangerous predator is Verreaux’s eagle, which feeds almost exclusively on hyraxes. Other large birds of prey, rock pythons, civet cats, and baboons are also a threat. At an alarm call an unmistakable, high-pitched shriek emitted by any member of the group all hyraxes of both species, dive for cover in rock clefts.

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