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rock hyrax, hyrax, dassie
(of the Cape)
The hyrax is a small, tailless, rodent-like animal with a long body and stout legs
Approximately 44-54 cm (18-22 in.)
1.8-5.4 kg (4-12 lb.)
Feeds mainly on a variety of grasses and some shrubs; can even feed on plants normally dangerous to other animals
Gestation lasts approximately 210-240 days; 2-3 young
Approximately 16-18 months
Generally 9-14 years
Inhabits rocky or scrub-covered areas; shelter between and under rocks as well as in burrows
Hyraxes are unique in that the iris slightly protrudes over the pupil of their eye. This decreases the amount of light to the eye from above, serving as a built-in sun visor.
Rock hyraxes are able to climb on steep rock surfaces because of physical adaptations on their feet. They are capable of retracting up the center portion of their feet into a concave dome, which creates a vacuum like suction to solid surfaces and aides in their climbing ability.
Hyraxes have long hairs scattered over their bodies. The hairs probably help orient hyraxes in dark areas and burrows, similar to whiskers.
Rock hyraxes live in groups ranging from 2-26 individuals. A dominant male that watches over the colony carefully to ensure their safety leads the group.
Hyraxes have little control of their body temperature and cannot exist without shelter from cold and heat. Instead, they use the environment to regulate their temperature.
The hyrax's wide mouth and sharp teeth enable it to take large bites of grass and quickly fill its stomach. Eating rapidly and spending less time on open grazing land lessens its exposure to predators.
Hyraxes are considered a close relative of the elephant because of similarities with the primitive Eocene ungulates from which elephants and sea cows are thought to have developed. Some of these similarities include: males testes within the abdomen; female mammary glands between the front legs; and tusks developed from incisors, rather than canines; resemblance in dentition and foot structure.
Verbal communication consists of a variety of different calls, but most startling are the territory and defense calls. Some scientists have likened them to a woman screaming!
Face-to-face meetings with a direct stare are apt to provoke low-level threat with a retracted upper lip and raised dorsal hair. This can escalate to growling and then chasing, snapping and biting. The tusks can inflict fatal wounds. To avoid confrontations, feeding or huddling hyraxes will face slightly away from each other in a fan pattern and will back into a huddle or den.
ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION
Hyraxes are a food source for many other animals larger than themselves, such as leopards, eagles, mongooses, lions, and jackals. In fact, the Verreaux eagle feeds almost exclusively on them.
Hyraxes have a high concentration of calcium carbonate in their urine and at one time these crystalline deposits were collected for medicinal value.
Deforestation and the fur trade, make them the most rare of all hyrax species.
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