Bio Facts: Hyrax, Rock
South African Rock Hyrax
Procavia capensis capensis
Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Sinai, Arabian Peninsula and almost all of Africa south of the Sahara
Rocky scrub covered areas where they can find or dig shelters around rocks. They are often found on kopjes.
The hair is short, rather coarse and is of a brownish gray color. The flanks are somewhat lighter in color and the underparts are creamy. A dorsal gland is surrounded by bright yellow to dark brown hair (least conspicuous in this subspecies). Body length ranges from 18-22 inches and their weight ranges from 4-11 lbs. Males and females look alike.
Maturity is reached between 16 and 17 months of age.
In the wild, they eat a variety of plant items. In the Zoo, they are fed rabbit chow, carrots, apples, sweet potatoes, and kale.
Rock hyraxes live in colonies that contain from 4 to as many as 60 individuals, depending on the amount of available habitat. The basic family unit consists of one adult territorial male and several related adult females and their young. The adult male is the leader and the most watchful member of the group. He often stays on a high rock or branch while the others feed. If danger threatens, he gives an alarm call. Researchers have identified 21 adult vocalizations made by rock hyraxes.
There are four classes of adult males: territorial, peripheral, early and late dispersers. Territorial males are the most dominant. Their aggressive behavior toward other adult males escalates during the mating season, when the weight of their testes increases twenty-fold. These well-endowed males monopolize receptive females and show a preference for copulating with females over 28 months of age.
Peripheral males on small kopjes are those unable to settle and on large kopjes can occupy territories on the periphery of a territorial male’s territory. They live solitary lives, and the highest-ranking one amongst them takes over a female group when the territorial male disappears. These males show no seasonality in aggression but only call in the mating season. Most of their mating attempts are with females younger than 28 months of age.
The majority of the juvenile males, both early and late dispersers, leave their birth site at 16 to 24 months of age. Late dispersers leave a year later, but before they reach 30 months of age. Prior to departing their birth sites, these juvenile males have ranges that overlap their mothers’ home ranges. They disperse in the mating season to become peripheral males. Almost no threat, submissive and fleeing behaviors have been observed between territorial males and late dispersers.
Individuals have been observed dispersing over a distance of at least 1.2 miles. However, the further a dispersing hyrax must travel across open grass plains with little or no cover, the greater its chances of dying. If predators do not capture it, then death may come as a result of its inability to cope with temperature stress.
Females become receptive about once per year. A peak in births seems to coincide with rainfall. Within a family group, females all give birth within about a three-week period. The gestation period is 205-245 days and 1 to 4 young are produced per litter. Young are fully developed at birth, and suckling young assume a strict teat order. Weaning occurs at 1 to 5 months and both sexes reach sexual maturity at about 16-17 months of age. Upon sexual maturity, females usually join the adult female group. While males disperse before they reach 30 months of age. Adult females live significantly longer than adult males.
Hyraxes have acute sight and hearing. When they run, the soles of their feet sweat. The moisture and rubber-like padding provides traction on smooth surfaces and steep slopes. They have long tactile hairs at intervals all over their bodies, probably for orientation in dark fissures and holes. When threatened, it becomes quite shy. When alarmed, it quickly runs into a rocky cranny or burrow. It can put up a vigorous fight in self-defense, biting savagely.
Hyraxes do not ruminate. Their gut is complex, with three separate areas of microbial digestion. Their ability to digest fiber efficiently is similar to that of ruminants. Their efficient kidneys allow them to exist on minimal moisture intake. In addition, they have a high capacity for concentrating urea and electrolytes, and excrete large amounts of undissolved calcium carbonate. As hyraxes have a habit of urinating in the same place, crystallized calcium carbonate forms deposits that whiten the cliffs.
Hyraxes regulate their body temperature mainly by gregarious huddling, long periods of inactivity, basking and relatively short periods of activity. Their physiology allows them to survive in very dry areas with food of poor quality. They are, however, dependent on shelter that provides them with relatively constant temperatures and humidity.
There are three genera of hyraxes represented by 11 species. The rock hyraxes or dassies are in the genus Procavia. The bush hyraxes are in the genus Heterohyrax. And, the tree hyraxes are in the genus Dendrohyrax.
Fossil records in Egypt show that the hyrax was the most significant mid-size herbivore about 40 million years ago. Some were as large as tapirs. Twenty-five million years ago, they began to decline from competition with antelope and goats. Hyraxes today retain some primitive characteristics. Most notably, they have an inefficient feeding mechanism, which involves cropping with the molars instead of the incisors used by hoofed animals, poor regulation of body temperature and short feet.
The hyrax has often been mistakenly linked to guinea pigs. It is most closely related to aardvarks and elephants and is one of the ancestors of all modern hoofed animals.
Hyraxes are referred to in the Bible as “conies”.
The most important predator of hyraxes is the Verreaux eagle, which feeds almost exclusively on them. Other predators include the Martial and Tawny eagles, lions, jackals, spotted hyenas, rock pythons, and leopards. Foxes, weasels and mongooses also prey on rock hyraxes. External parasites such as ticks, lice, mites and fleas, and internal parasites such as nematodes and cestodes play important roles in hyrax mortality. In Kenya and Ethiopia, it was discovered that rock and tree hyraxes might be important reservoirs for the parasitic disease leishmaniasis.
Some natives prize the flesh of the hyrax.
Cape hyraxes produce large, communal piles of dung and urine that eventually congeal into a sticky mass. Humans have used this substance (hyraceum) as a medicine for treating epilepsy, convulsions, and “women’s disorders.”
To the Phoenicians and the Hebrews, the hyrax was called shaphan, meaning “the hidden one.” Some 3,000 years ago, Phoenician seamen explored the Mediterranean, sailing westward from their homeland, Syria. They found land where they saw many animals that looked like hyraxes. They named the landmass Ishaphan – “Land of the Hyrax. The Romans later modified the name to Hispania. But the animals were really rabbits, not hyraxes, and so the name Spain derives from a faulty observation.
The hyrax’s superficial similarity to rodents led Storr, in 1780, to mistakenly link them with guinea pigs of the genus Cavia, and he thus gave them the family name of Procaviidae or “before the guinea pig.” Later, the mistake was discovered and the group was given the equally misleading name of hyrax, which means “shrew mouse.”
The Eastern tree hyrax is heavily hunted for its fur in the forest belt around Mt. Kilimanjaro: 48 animals yields one rug. Because the forests are disappearing at an alarming rate, tree hyraxes are probably the most endangered of all hyraxes.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
This species first occurred in our collection in September 1976. Gone by August 1977, it was not exhibited again until August 1996. It has successfully bred here.