Rock hyrax (Procavia capensis)

Also known as: rock dassie
French: Daman De Rocher
GenusProcavia (1)
SizeLength: 39.5 - 58 cm (2)
Weight1.8 - 5.4 kg (2)

The rock hyrax is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) is a small, tailless mammal which superficially may resemble a guinea pig, but is actually more closely related to elephants and manatees (3). Also known as the ‘dassie’, the dense fur of the rock hyrax is variable in colour, but is typically brownish-grey on the upperparts, with lighter underparts (4). A distinctive patch sits the back of the rock hyrax, which may be black, yellow or orange, and covers a gland that secretes a characteristic odour (5). The soles of the feet are moist and rubber-like, providing the hyrax with a good grip as it clambers around its steep, rocky habitat (4).

A rather vocal species, the rock hyrax produces a series of intermittent “harsh yips” which build up to “guttural grunts” to defend its territory (5) (6), and a sharp bark is used to warn others if danger threatens (4).

The rock hyrax is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the Congo basin, and in north-east Africa, eastwards to the western and southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula (1).

The rock hyrax occupies habitats dominated by rocks and large boulders, including mountain cliffs, scree slopes and outcrops or kopjes (isolated rock hills rising from the African veldt) (6). It requires numerous cavities and crevices that are large enough to shelter in, but small enough to discourage predators. These cavities often face away from strong prevailing winds, have good visibility of the surrounding habitat, and are close to to sunlit areas for basking and suitable foraging areas (6). The rock hyrax often uses basking and sheltering to control its body temperature, thus the location and layout of its rocky habitat is important – it needs easy access to basking spots when it is cold, as well as deep crevices to escape excessive heat (6).

A gregarious mammal, the rock hyrax lives in colonies of 2 to 26 individuals, typically consisting of a breeding male, sometimes a subordinate male, and several adult females and their offspring (4). The rock hyrax is typically active during the day, although it may occasionally be active and heard calling on moonlit nights (4) (6). When it emerges from its resting place, the rock hyrax spends one or two hours basking in the sun to warm up before an afternoon spent foraging. On overcast, rainy or cold days, the rock hyrax will often remain under cover (4) (6) and it will also seek shade during very hot weather (4).

The rock hyrax feeds on grasses, shrubs and forbs, and has a preference for new shoots, buds, fruits and berries (1), which it may obtain by grazing on the ground, or climbing trees to reach fresh leaves (4). While the group is feeding or basking, either the breeding male or a female will keep look out from a high rock or branch, and will give a sharp bark alarm call if danger threatens, at which point the group will scurry for cover (4).

The breeding season of the rock hyrax varies depending on location, with mating taking place from August to September in Israel, and August to November in Kenya. The female gives birth to between one and six young after a gestation period of 202 to 245 days. The young, which are typically born in a rocky crevice, are well developed at birth and can move about with agility after just a day. The young feed on the female’s milk for one to five months, but may begin taking solid food within two weeks. The rock hyrax reaches sexual maturity at 16 to 17 months, and may live for up to 11 years (4).

Due to its extensive range and presumed large range the rock hyrax is not currently considered to be a threatened species (1). However, in some areas, such as Egypt, the rock hyrax has been killed for food (4), while in others it is considered to be a pest, due to the damage it can inflict on crops. In the past, in South Africa, this resulted in campaigns to cull rock hyraxes (7).

The rock hyrax occurs in many protected areas and is protected by law in Israel (1).

Find out more about the rock hyrax:

Authenticated (14/03/11) by Galen Rathburn. Chair, IUCN-SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
  2. Burton, R. (1941) International Wildlife Encyclopaedia. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York.
  3. Merritt, J.F. (2010) The Biology of Small Mammals. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  4. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  5. Olds, N. and Shoshani, J. (1982) Procavia capensis. Mammalian Species, 171: 1-7.
  6. Estes, R. (1993) The Safari Companion, a Guide to Watching African Mammals, including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores and Primates. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, Vermont.
  7. Beinart, W. (2003) The Rise of Conservation in South Africa- Settlers, Livestock and the Environment 1770-1950. Oxford University Press, New York.