Tree hyrax basking in the sun.
An interesting animal one might come across on one's safari in Africa is the hyrax, a small furry mammal that looks somewhat like a big guinea pig or a rabbit with round ears and no tail. Unique to Africa and the Middle East, the hyrax is a rather unusual mammal, so unlike other animals that it is placed in a separate order by itself (Hyracoidea). Amazingly, the hyrax shares a remote ancestor with elephants and sea cows (dugongs and manatees)!
Hyraxes are primitive animals, exhibiting many traits characteristic of early mammals. They are not very good at internally regulating their temperatures, and can often be seen basking in the sun or huddling together for warmth. They use molar teeth at the side of the jaw to slice off leaves and grass. They are not ruminants, but they have multi-chambered stomachs that allow bacteria to break down tough plant materials enabling them to digest fiber like ruminants.
Two hyrax species are rock (or bush) hyraxes and the third is a tree hyrax. They are widely distributed in East Africa, living from sea level up to over 14,000 feet in elevation and in habitats ranging from dry savanna to dense rainforest to cold alpine moorland. Tree hyraxes eat leaves and fruits, while rock hyraxes feed on grasses, herbs, leaves, fruit, insects, lizards, and birds’ eggs – both types obtain most of their water from their food. Hyraxes are eaten by pythons, raptors, leopards, and smaller predators such as caracals, servals, and civets.
Fossil remains show that hyraxes the size of oxen once roamed the earth!
Science News and Updates From the Field from Wild Nature Institute.
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