Rock Hyrax, Procavia capensis
The rock hyrax (Procavia capensis), also known as the Cape hyrax, is one of four species of hyrax and is the sole member of its genus, Procavia. It is occasionally known as the rock rabbit or as a dassie. It is known as three different names in Swahili, although the only name used specifically for this species is the “pimbi.” It holds many subspecies, some of which are known as Cape or rock hyraxes as well. These are usually African species of hyrax. The rock hyrax is found throughout the Middle East and Africa, preferring habitats within rocky crevices.
The rock hyrax is stout, reaching an average body length of up to twenty inches and an average weight of 8.8 pounds. Males are typically ten percent larger than females. The fur of this species can vary depending upon its habitat, but it is typically greyish to dark brown in color, with darker individuals occurring in moist areas. Hyraxes are unique in that it holds a dorsal gland that secretes a scent used for territorial and social communication. This is most often seen in territorial males. This species has an elongated head, with small ears and black whiskers located on the tip of the nose. It has two small, tusk-like teeth on the upper mouth, which resemble those of the elephant. Males have testes that are located on the abdomen, which is another feature it shares with elephants.
The rock hyrax gathers in groups of up to eighty individuals, which are divided into smaller, familial groups between three and fifteen individuals. These smaller groups hold many females, one male, and the young produced by these adults. The male is dominant and will mark his territory in order to avoid fighting with other members of the larger group. This species is highly sociable and is adults are able to emit more than 21 different vocalizations. These are called songs and have given scientists information about social statuses, weights and individual health, and other important factors in this species life. The most common vocalization, however, is a high-pitched trill that is used to alert the colonies to danger.
The breeding season of the rock hyrax occurs between the months of February and March. After a pregnancy period between six and seven months, two or three young are born with eyes open and a full coat. They are able to consume solid food at two weeks of age, are weaned at ten weeks, and are able to breed at sixteen months of age. Males will leave their birth groups at up to thirty months of age. This species typically reaches its adult size at three years of age and has an average lifespan of about ten years.
The diet of the rock hyrax consists of many types of vegetation including broad-leafed plants, grasses, grubs, and insects. This species forages in groups as far as 164 feet from the home, with one or two individuals serving as lookouts in case of danger. If danger is spotted, the lookouts will emit a warning giving every hyrax enough time to retreat to safety. This species is able to climb trees in order to reach citrus fruits, and does not require water every day.
The rock hyrax are hunted by many species in Africa, including leopards, caracals, eagles, and wild dogs. In this area, the rock hyrax makes up a vital portion of the Verreaux’s eagle’s diet. Contrary to this, land predators do not often hunt rock hyraxes in Israel, most likely due to their increased protection within rocks.
By the standards of the Torah, the rock hyrax is classified as non-kosher, because it was observed chewing cud. Recent studies have shown that this chewing behavior is not meant for nutrient consumption, but is used as an aggressive behavior and is associated with a grunting vocalization. This species appears in a series of books and related movie known as Born Free, written by Joy Adamson. The rock hyrax is used in traditional medicinal practices, although it is not hunted for this purpose. The secretion known as hyraceum, which is made up of urine and dung, is used to treat epilepsy, among other medical disorders. The rock hyrax appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”
Image Caption: Rock Hyrax in Cape Good Hope, South Africa. Credit: Derkarts/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)