52 Hyrax Facts – The Ultimate Guide to Rock, Bush & Tree Hyraxes (with Photos & Videos)

Hyraxes are some of the most widespread animals in Africa, but most of the people haven’t even heard about them. This is my contribution to showing folks what amazing (and cute animals) they are.

You’ll find extensive facts, curiosities, photos, and videos of rock, bush and tree hyraxes.

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Table of Contents

Hyrax Facts

CLASS: Mammalia

ORDER: Hyracoidea

FAMILY: Provide

The hyrax was first scientifically described in 1766.

Hyrax pronunciation

It’s easy to pronounce hyrax. Look at it like this – hi-racks.

What does hyrax mean?

The word comes from Ancient Greek: ὕραξ, romanized: hýrax, meaning shrewmouse. You have to give it to the Greeks. They were spot on with their naming.

What is the plural of hyrax?

The plural form of hyrax is hyraxes or hyraces. Although I’ve seen plenty of people use hyrax in their articles, I’ve settled for hyraxes for my post.

Two rock hyraxes trying their luck under a picnic table.
Two rock hyraxes were trying their luck under a picnic table.

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What is a hyrax also called?

Hyrax is also called dassie. Other forms of this Afrikaans word are darsee, dasja, dasje, dasse, dassee, dassé, dassi, dassy, and dossi. Earlier form in South African Dutch was dasje, which is a diminutive form of Dutch das badger.

In Hebrew, they’re called שָּׁפָן (shafan) and in Tigrinya: ጊሐ (gihè).

How each of the species is called, see below in the post.

Hyrax species

Five extant or living species are recognized:

I’m giving a closer look at each of the species below. But first, let’s learn more about hyraxes in general as they have many common traits.

Is hyrax a rodent?

This is a common misconception. Yet, hyraxes are actually not rodents, but mammals, just like you and me.

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Is a hyrax dangerous?

They are not dangerous as they are herbivores and not particularly big at that. They typically clock in between 30 and 70 centimeters (12 and 28 inches) in length and between 2 and 5 kilograms (4 and 11 pounds) in weight.

They might kill you with cuteness.

Is a hyrax friendly then?

Hyraxes are still wild animals, and like most wild animals that haven’t interacted with humans before, they will run away from you and won’t let you cuddle them to death.

Do hyraxes bite?

Hyraxes do bite. Their two large incisors that grow out to be like tiny tusks, just like an elephant’s, continually grow just like rodents’ teeth do.

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Where does the hyrax live?

Their habitat is only in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Their habitats range from dry savanna to dense rainforest to cold Afro-alpine moorland.

In the past, however, hyraxes were more diverse and widespread.

What do hyraxes do?

Hyraxes would be the ultimate couch potatoes if the couch were outside in the sun.

They start each day with a group sunbathing session that lasts several hours, after which they grab a brunch and then continue to sunbathe.

Hyraxes spend around 95 percent of their time resting, including piling on top of each other inside a den or basking in the sun.

Is there a specific reason for this incredibly lazy behavior, or are they simply on an extended holiday?

It turns out that they have poor internal temperature regulation, just like us, but unlike us, they do not know how to make clothes (yet). So what is a poor freezing hyrax going to do? Huddle together with other hyraxes or go bask in the sun.

Rock and bush hyraxes may even share shelter holes and huddle together to warm up in the morning. There are very few cases of mammal species living so closely together.

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What sound does the hyrax make?

Just like your dad, they have 21 different vocalizations, including trills, yips, chucks, grunts, wails, snorts, twitters, shrieks, squeaks, growls, and whistles but also songs.

Yes, the male hyrax can sing a complex song that can last for several minutes and use syntax (unlike your dad) to arrange well-formed elements of the music.

They also have different dialects, depending on their region.

It sounds like someone is trying to start a car.

Why do hyraxes scream?

Hyrax will scream or make other sounds that will alert other hyraxes in the group of danger. Here’s a wonderful video of a hyrax screaming.

WARNING: Please be advised that it is a high-pitched sound, and it may pierce your eardrums if you’re listening through headphones.

What does the hyrax eat?

Hyraxes have three-chambered stomachs filled with symbiotic bacteria that help break down the plants they eat. Apart from plants like Lobelia, they will eat leaves, fruit, insects, lizards, and bird eggs.

They are nervous eaters, and the whole family group will eat facing out from a circle to watch for potential predators.

Rock hyrax with leave in its mouth
Rock hyrax with a leaf in its mouth

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Are hyraxes endangered?

Although hyraxes are not endangered, they are, of course, not safe from human actions. People are encroaching on their habitats by expanding cities, roads, and agriculture. And some species are heavily hunted for the fur trade.

How do they communicate?

Hyraxes have more than 20 different vocalizations they use to communicate to other members of their numerous family groups. Besides, male hyraxes sing complex songs that can last for several minutes and probably serve a territorial purpose.

They also have a smelly gland on their backs for communication and territorial marking. I think that’s more than enough way to communicate!

Hyraxes have cat whiskers all over their bodies

They have extra-long hairs that stick out around the body from their short fur. They’re called guard hairs, and they help the hyrax feel its way around, the same way a cat uses its whiskers.

Rock hyrax whiskers
Rock hyrax whiskers

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Are hyraxes related to elephants?

Hyraxes, elephants, and sirenians all have common ancestors, of which some evolved to become the modern hyraxes. In contrast, others went into the water (like capybaras) and, in the long run, gave rise to the elephant family and perhaps also the sirenians.

The Sirenia, commonly referred to as sea-cows or sirenians, are an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit swamps, rivers, estuaries, marine wetlands, and coastal marine waters. There are currently two families of sirenians – manatees and dugongs.

Do they still have something in common? Yes, they do. Male hyraxes lack a scrotum, and their testicles remain tucked up in their abdominal cavity next to their kidneys, and the same is true in elephants, manatees, and dugongs.

While female hyraxes have a pair of teats near their armpits, as well as four teats in their groin, the elephants have a pair of teats near their armpits, and dugongs, and manatees have a pair of teats, one located close to each of the front flippers.

Hyrax and elephant
Hyrax and elephant

The most interesting common feature both elephants and hyraxes have is tusks. Males have larger and sharper tusks than females.

Tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth that protrude well beyond the mouth of certain mammal species. They are most commonly canine teeth, but in the case of hyraxes and elephants, they develop from incisors.

The dominant male is especially territorial and aggressive during the breeding season, and his testicles can grow 20 times larger than their non-breeding season size.

Mammals usually have curved, elongated claws on the tips of their fingers, but hyraxes and elephants have flattened nails instead.

As you can see, hyraxes share numerous features with elephants, such as toenails, excellent hearing, sensitive pads on their feet, small tusks, good memory, higher brain functions compared with other similar mammals, and the shape of some of their bones.

I can only say, thank God they’re not as big as elephants!

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How do hyraxes teeth look like?

Their two upper incisors are their most prominent feature because they are large and look like tusks and grow continuously throughout their life, similar to rodents. The four lower incisors are deeply grooved ‘comb teeth.’

hyrax teeth
Hyrax teeth

The tusks of hyraxes develop from the incisor teeth, as do the tusks of elephants, while most mammalian tusks grow from the canines.
The dental formula for hyraxes is:

How do their feet look like?

Because hyraxes live in terrains that require excellent stability and control, their cute feet have rubbery pads with sweat glands, which help them maintain grip when quickly moving up steep, rocky surfaces.

Hyrax feet
By Arikk – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11120640

What does a baby hyrax look like?

baby hyrax
Mother and baby hyrax

Can you have a hyrax as a pet?

You can have a hyrax as a pet, and people do keep them as pets more or less successfully. I mean, if people keep capybaras as pets, which are much, much bigger and require a pool or a small pond, why not have a hyrax as a pet.

One can easily find single or multiple hyraxes for sale online, mostly from breeders in Florida. Each state has its own sets of regulations regarding the keeping of exotic animals, so it might be illegal to keep them.

What are hyraxes’ predators?

They have plenty of predators, such as leopards, hyenas, jackals, servals, pythons, but also the Verreaux’s eagle, hyrax specialist, and that fact you can see in the way they eat.

Rock hyraxes feed in a circle formation, with their head pointing to the outside of the circle to keep an eye out for predators.

Verreaux’s eagle
Verreaux’s eagle

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How do hyraxes defend themselves?

With their excellent vision

Hyraxes can spot a predator over 1,000 yards (900 meters) away!

During each feeding period, the dominant male pauses between bites to watch for danger. He will literally scream if he sees anything of concern, and all of the hyraxes will scramble for cover, where they remain absolutely still until they think the danger has passed.

With their sharp teeth

If needed, a hyrax can wedge itself backward between rocks and bite savagely at the intruder with its long, sharp incisors that are, as we learned, tusk-like.

With sheer numbers

Hyraxes live in groups of up to 50 (some say 80!) individuals.

Group of rock hyraxes keeping together
Group of rock hyraxes keeping together

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How many babies do they have?

Female hyraxes have a gestation period between seven and eight months and give birth to up to four pups.

When pups, are born, usually around the same time once each year, the entire colony greets and sniffs the young ones.

Hyrax keeping an eye on a snake
Hyrax keeping an eye on a snake

Do hyraxes carry rabies?

Rabies, caused by the rabies virus, primarily infects mammals. Hyraxes being mammals, can carry rabies.

In Ethiopia, Israel and Jordan, it is a reservoir of the leishmaniasis parasite.

Do people eat hyraxes?

Some African people hunt hyraxes for food and skin. Also, they are mentioned in the Bible as being not kosher. People were eating them, so there was a warning for Jews that they should not.

Why is hyrax in the Bible?

Hyraxes are mentioned in the Old Testament (Leviticus 11:5; Deuteronomy 14:7; Psalm 104:18; Proverbs 30:26). It would be best if you thought that a hyrax saved a saint or something, but no. One of the reasons why they’re being mentioned is that they are treif or non-kosher (Leviticus).

They’re also mentioned (in Proverbs 30:26) as one of several remarkable animals for being small but exceedingly wise.

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When rock hyrax’s urine and feces petrify, they form rock-like excrement called hyraceum. It is also a sought-after material that has been used in both traditional South African medicine and perfumery.

Why is hyraceum so interesting to the perfume industry? Because it has a deeply complex fermented scent that combines the elements of musk, castoreum, civet, tobacco, and agarwood.

It is also more ethical to recover than, for instance, deer musk and civet, which require killing or inflicting pain on the animals.

Rock Hyrax

What is a rock hyrax?

The rock hyrax is a small furry rodent-like mammal that resembles a guinea pig but is a capable climber. They have a pointed head, short neck, and rounded ears with long black whiskers on their muzzles.

What is the rock hyrax’s scientific name?

The rock hyrax is known as Procavia capensis. Procavia being their genus and capensis referring to a cape which is a high point of land that narrowly extends into a body of water. Rock hyraxes live on a cape and hence their name.

How else is a rock hyrax called?

The rock hyrax is also called Cape hyrax, rock rabbit, rock badger, stone badger, pimbi, coney, dassie, and klipdassie.

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Where does the rock hyrax live?

The rock hyrax’s habitat is across sub-Saharan Africa, except for the Congo Basin and Madagascar. The distribution includes southern Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and the Middle East, with hyrax populations in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Arabian Peninsula.

What does rock hyrax eat?

They are primarily herbivores that eat a wide variety of different plants and supplement with insects and grubs.

They primarily get their water from plants, so they don’t tend to drink as much and can actually go on days without water.

How big is rock hyrax?

Rock hyraxes weigh between 4 to 13 pounds (1.8 to 5.4 kilograms), are 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) tall, and 12 to 23 inches (30 to 58 centimeters) long.

What does a baby rock hyrax look like?

I could paint you a picture, but I think a video is better.

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What’s unique about the rock hyrax?

Like all hyraxes, they are related to elephants. Their homes are easy to identify as hyrax abodes, as the animals’ urine crystallizes and looks like white patches on the rocks and eventually forming hyraceum.

They spend 95% of their time chilling in the sun and doing nothing. And amazingly, their pups are born so fully developed they can run and jump an hour after birth. Tell that to my 6-month old baby!

Tree Hyrax

What is a tree hyrax?

Tree hyrax is a small mammal native to Africa and has a guinea pig-like appearance, like cousins rock hyrax and bush hyrax.

What is the tree hyrax’s scientific name?

There are three species of tree hyraxes:

  • Southern tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax arboreus), found in East and Southern Africa
  • Eastern tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax validus), found in East Africa
  • Western tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax dorsalis), found in West and Central Africa

How else is a tree hyrax called?

They are called tree dassies as well. The western tree hyrax is also called the western tree dassie or Beecroft’s tree hyrax,

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Where do the tree hyraxes live?

They live in dense forests that are about 14,800 ft (4500 m) above sea level in sub-Saharan Africa, dependent on the species.

The western tree hyrax is found in West and Central Africa: Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Togo, and Uganda.

While the southern tree hyrax is found in Angola, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa.

What does tree hyrax eat?

Like all hyraxes, tree hyraxes are herbivores and eat plants, leaves, and other parts of trees or bushes.

How big is tree hyrax?

Tree hyraxes weigh between 4.4 to 11 pounds (2 to 5 kilograms), are 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) tall, and are 17 to 23 inches (43 to 58 centimeters) long.

What does a baby tree hyrax look like?

They are a miniature version of adult tree dassie.

baby tree hyrax
baby tree hyrax

What’s unique about the tree hyrax?

Like other species of hyraxes, they too have a dorsal gland that they use to communicate and mark territory.

Their dorsal scent gland is up to 70 mm (2.8 in) long in the center of the back, surrounded by a yellowish patch of fur.

The gland is most visible in the dominant male, and pheromone production from the gland is most intense during the breeding season.

Astonishingly, chimpanzees were seen capturing and playing with western tree hyraxes at Bossou, Guinea. A female chimpanzee carried one hyrax for 15 hr, slept with it in her nest, and groomed it. She/they didn’t eat the hyrax. Actually, nearby adults ignored it.

Bush Hyrax

What is a bush hyrax?

Bush hyrax is a species of mammal in the family Procaviidae.

What is the bush hyrax’s scientific name?

The bush hyrax is known as Heterohyrax brucei.

How else is a bush hyrax called?

They are also called the yellow-spotted rock hyrax or bush hyrax or bush dassie, hogger hyrax, yellow-spotted hyrax, and daman de steppe.

Where do the bush hyraxes live?

Its natural habitats are dry savanna and rocky areas. They are found in Angola, Botswana, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Southern Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Northern South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Their habitats are restricted to rocky kopjes (rocky, elevated areas on a generally flat plain), sheer rock faces (krantzes), and piles of large boulders.

What does the bush hyrax eat?

They browse herbivores, only rarely consuming grass instead of twigs, leaves, buds, flowers, and forbs. They obtain all the water they need from the vegetation they consume.

Browsing is a type of herbivory in which a herbivore feeds on leaves, soft shoots, or fruits of high-growing, generally woody plants such as shrubs.

What’s unique about the bush hyrax?

The bush hyraxes have an umbraculum in the pupil of their eye extending from the iris, enabling them to stare into the sun and watch for aerial predators. At the same time, they bask in the sun, which is their favorite activity.

They live over ten years in the wild, with an average lifespan of 12 years, and also form latrines and habitually defecate and urinate in designated locations where they reside.

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Urban Dassies

Here is a great video by 5050 Community about hyraxes or dassies, living around people in urban communities in peoples’ back yards, gardens, drains, etc. They even put up road signs warning drivers of hyraxes sunbathing on or beside the road. Have a look.