The Rock Hyrax – denizen of the mountains

We’re planning a trip to the Erongo Mountains next week (one of our favourite spots in Namibia) and because of the rocky nature of the environment, we know we will come across the dassie, rock rabbit or rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) as it is known.  These rabbit-like creatures are the sentinels of the mountains and can be seen draped over rocks, soaking up the sunshine and surveying the scenery.  When danger looms they alert each other with shrill calls and at the first sign of a predator, they scurry back into the safety of the rock crevices.  They are known to have numerous vocal signals, but the noise we hear most often when hiking near them sounds exactly like a donkey braying.

A well-fed rock rabbit

Here in Namibia, the rock rabbits have grey fur.  Their fur colour is determined by their environment – if they live in dry, desert-like conditions with limited foliage, their fur is grey, whereas dassies found in wetter regions, like the Cape in South Africa, have thick brown fur.

Cape specimen with brown fur

They are sociable animals and can be seen in large numbers (herds of over fifty dassies are not uncommon), but we mostly see them in small family groups.  They are extremely agile and can run up and down sheer rock faces without any difficulty.  They’re equally at home perched on thin tree branches.

Equally at home in a tree

Rock rabbits don’t move far from their refuges when looking for leaves, grass and insects to eat, and they are able to go for many days without water.  Predators include leopards, snakes and eagles.  We often see snake eagles and Verreaux’s eagles hunting in the Erongo Mountains.

Verreaux's Eagle on the hunt

Families are protected by a dominant male, who marks his territory to prevent disputes.  Dassies give birth to two or three babies after a 6-7 month gestation period.  It takes the young three years to reach their adult size, although they are mating before they are eighteen months old (typical teenagers!!)  Their lifespan is about ten years.

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It is interesting  to note that the enormous elephant is the closest living relative to the rock hyrax.

Dassie habitat - rocky mountains

 

 

 

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