Cape hyrax, Dassie
A small African mammal which looks like a rodent, but is actually a member of the Afrotheria - related to elephants, sea cows, tenrecs, elephant shrews and the aardvark.
9-12 years, with females living longer than males.
44-54cm long, weighing 1.8-5.4kg (males and females approximately the same size)
A small, solidly built mammal superficially resembling a guinea-pig, with a short stump for a tail. Its feet have rubbery soles and sweat glands which help it grip and climb rocky surfaces. Part of the underside of the feet can be retracted, forming a suctioncap, giving the animal extra climbing abilities. The rock hyrax is covered in short, brown fur (paler on the underside), with occasional longer guard hairs which are touch sensitive. The ears are medium-sized and rounded, the nose black and leathery, and the eyes round and dark with a pale 'eyebrow'. All hyraxes have a gland on their back, and in the Cape hyrax this is dark brown.
Hyraxes have poor control over their body temperature, and instead use the sun's heat to regulate it, basking and huddling together. By being inactive and letting their body temperature drop they can conserve energy and live in places with poor quality vegetation. They live in groups of 3-7 related adult females with one adult male defending a territory encompassing theirs. Females do not defend their territories against other females, and home ranges may overlap. Males, however, are aggressive towards each other, particularly at mating time.
Females are sexually receptive about once a year, with births peaking during the rainy season after a gestation of 212-240 days. During the mating season, males' testes (which are internal, like those of other afrotheres) increase 20-fold in size, and they become very aggressive. Mating is brief but dramatic, with the male launching himself into the air with the effort. Within a group, females all give birth within a period of about 3 weeks to litters of 1-4. The young are born fully developed. Males without a territory live solitarily and attempt to mate with young females, who are often ignored by the territorial males. Young males leave their mothers at 16-24 months old as they reach sexual maturity. Young females usually stay with the group.
Hyraxes have a fascinating fossil history, having been the dominant herbivorous family in Africa whilst it was an island continent. There were large species, up to the size of tapirs, and even one aquatic species. When Africa collided into Europe, the hoofed animals of the north inveded, and hyraxes were pushed into their current niches.