Small creature, almost the size of a rabbit, mostly confused with rodents, the hyrax is classified together with an elephant and sirenians (dugong and manatees). Hard to believe!! I know.
Hyraxes are classified together with elephants, manatees and dugongs because of their abdominal retained testis in males and two pectoral mammary glands in females. They also lack clavicles. In addition, they lack canine teeth as their tusks form from their incisors unlike other mammals whose tusks form from their canines.
Hyraxes are about 1.5 – 5 kg in weight with lengths of about 30 to 60cm. The hyrax is a herbivore with a short snout, a cleft on the upper lip, short ears, large eyes and sturdy legs. Their tail is short, barely visible.
The two types of hyraxes; tree hyrax and terrestrial hyrax are widely distributed in Central and Southern Africa, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and parts of Middle East. Terrestrial hyraxes consist of the rock and bush or yellow-spotted rock hyraxes while the tree hyrax comprises of one genus by the same name. Tree hyraxes are mostly arboreal, solitary and nocturnal species while the rock and bush hyraxes form large colonies and are diurnal and crepuscular species.
During my attachment in Tsavo East National Park, I encountered the terrestrial hyraxes in their natural habitats. Why I chose to document about such a common species with no major threat, both human and predators, is because of their differences and similarities that I discovered between the two terrestrial hyraxes and the fact that you get to compare them with an elephant which is close by.
The differences between the two terrestrial species is mostly in their habitat and there physical characteristics. Basically, rock hyraxes inhabit rocky areas in arid to semi-arid regions while the bush hyrax inhabits shrubs, scrubs and open grassland areas.
Physically, rock hyraxes have gray- white fur on their underbelly with blunt snouts while the bush hyrax is yellow to brown on their underbelly with sharper snouts. Their physical appearance may be as a result of adapting to their natural environment as their colour may camouflage them from their natural surrounding areas.
I also found them very interesting to photograph as they did not appear frantic or scared and acted as if they were models at a photo shoot. 🙂
Like all other animals, hyraxes have a very primitive self-temperature regulation system that seems almost reptilian. They must bask in the sun to gain heat and then huddle together at night to retain heat. It is thought that the hyrax has evolved very little from its origins.
Due to their smaller size, they are themselves the target of many predators, such as rock pythons, puff adders, leopards, birds, and even some mongoose.