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Meet the Hyrax

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Hyrax sunning, Mount Kenya, Kenya. Photo by Jos van Adrichem.

Hyrax sunning, Mount Kenya, Kenya. Photo by Jos van Adrichem.

Just about everyone who writes about the hyrax manages to mention that the furry little mammal is the elephant’s closest living relative. It’s a rhetorical trick meant to grab the poor reader’s attention: you mean to say that that cute fuzzy small-rabbit thing is a close cousin of the humongous bald trumpeting flappy-eared thing? And if you’ve read this far, the trick has worked on you, too.

Hyraxes, it turns out, aren’t actually closely related to any other living thing; zoologists have classified them into their own order, Hyracoidea, in which they are the only genus. Why the special treatment? For one, their bodies don’t regulate heat as well as most other mammalian bodies do; it is not uncommon to see hyraxes sunning themselves on rocky outcrops as reptiles do. For another, they don’t digest grasses, leaves and fruit quite like other mammalian herbivores do, either. Their connection to elephants is through an ancient relative (think of a hyrax as big as a horse), which is also an ancestor of manatees and dugongs. Hyraxes and elephants do share some physical characteristics, including similarities in tooth, foot and leg bone structure.

Hyraxes are common throughout East Africa, from dry grassland to high alpine meadow. Hyraxes live in packs of females and their young attached to a single male (who may be attached to several such groups). They don’t burrow, so they must rely upon naturally occurring cover — crevices in rocky outcrops, for example. Predators include big and medium cats (leopard and serval) civets, snakes, and large birds of prey.

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Written by kenyacom

August 24, 2009 at 8:49 am

Posted in Fauna, small mammals

Tagged with , , ,

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