The Rock hyrax, otherwise called ‘Dassie’, is a small mammal, very similar to a guinea pig. This animal, together with its subspecies called Yellow-Spotted Hyrax and two Tree Hyrax species (which generally look alike), forms a separate order. The Rock hyrax is an unusual creature that lacks tail. The coat of this animal is dense and varies greatly in color. However, the upper-parts of the hyrax are usually brownish-grey, whereas the under-parts are lighter. On its back, the Rock hyrax exhibits a characteristic marking, colored in black, yellow or orange. Underneath this patch, the animal has a special gland, giving off a specific odour. The hyrax also possesses moist and rubber-like foot soles, allowing it to easily grasp objects when climbing steep rocks of its range.
The natural range of Rock hyrax covers a huge territory, including most of sub-Saharan Africa (except for the Congo basin and Madagascar) and north-eastern Africa, stretching eastwards to the western and southern coasts of the Arabian Peninsula. The preferred habitat of this species is arid areas such as deserts, savannas and scrub forests as well as rocky terrains with moderate vegetation. Rock hyraxes typically favor places with abundant rock crevices and cavities, since the latter are used as shelters.
The Rock hyraxes are highly sociable animals, forming groups of 2 - 26 individuals. These colonies usually consist of one breeding male and multiple adult females with their young. Occasionally, subordinate males can be observed in these groups. Although they are generally active by day, these animals have also been known to be active and communicate through calls during moonlit nights. Coming out of their shelters, they take sunbaths for 1 - 2 hours in order to warm up. Rock hyraxes start foraging by afternoon. During overcast, rainy or cold days, these animals rarely come out of their shelters. Meanwhile, they tend to remain in shady sites during extremely hot days. As grazers, these hyraxes feed on the ground, sometimes climbing trees to feed on fresh leaves. They feed in groups, where the breeding male or a female always stands guard on a high rock or tree branch: once a threat is detected, the animal emits a sharp barking call, which acts as an alarm, after which members of the group flee to their shelters.
As omnivorous animals, these hyraxes mainly consume herbs, grasses, fruit and leaves, supplementing their diet with small lizards, insects and eggs of birds, caught when sunbathing on local rocks.
Rock hyraxes have a polygynous mating system, where one male mates with 3 - 7 females, controlling them in a territory of up to 4000 square meters. Breeding occurs depending on geographical location. Thus, population in Israel mates in August-September, whereas those in Kenya typically mate in August-November. Gestation period lasts for 202 - 245 days, yielding 1-6 babies in a rocky crevice. Newborn young are well-developed, starting to move around with ease by the second day of their lives. At 3 - 4 days old, they are ready to eat food, whereas solid food is included into their diet during the first 2 weeks. Weaning occurs at 3 months old. The age of sexual maturity for this species is 16 months old. However, young hyraxes attain their adult size and weight only after 3 years old.
The Rock hyraxes currently face habitat loss across much of their original range due to land clearing for agriculture as well as increased development of human settlements. In many areas of its range, the Rock hyraxes are considered pests due to damaging crops. As a result, in South Africa, there have been campaigns, intended to cull this species. In other areas such as Egypt, these animals are hunted for their meat.
According to IUCN, the Rock hyrax is abundant in some areas and widely but no overall population estimate is available. However, this species is currently classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers remain stable.
As a key herbivore of its range, the Rock hyrax controls growth of local vegetation. In addition, this animal is an important prey species for leopards, wild dogs, raptors and other predators.