The rock hyrax is such a surprising animal! People are really surprised to learn that THIS species is one of the closest living relatives to elephants. Yes, elephants!
Hyraxes are NOT rodents or rabbits; they are in their own order, Hyracoidea. They share a most recent common ancestors with elephants and manatees despite weighing less than 10 lbs. These groups of species look all look so different (elephants, manatees, and hyraxes), but genetic evidence, as well as features in the structure of their skulls, wrist, and placenta reveal these animals are more related to each other than the other mammals they superficially look so similar to.
These photos of the rock hyrax all come from a research expedition to the top of Mount Kenya. We had camera traps running from the park entrance to as high as we could go. Rock hyraxes are one of the only mammals we photographed on the top of the mountain.
Rock hyraxes are pretty easy to see at the top if you sit still and remain quiet. When I was waiting for other camera trappers to finish, I would sit quietly and within minutes you I saw them come out on to the rocks. First a few. Then tens. Then you would look out and see that you were surrounded by them!
Like elephants, the rock hyrax lives in female groups of related individuals. Unlike elephants, there is a territorial male with each group. During the mating season, the males get more aggressive and their testes increase in weight twentyfold!
The rock hyrax was one of my favorite animals I saw on the mountain. If you want to see more photos from the expedition read “Mount Kenya Expedition.” If you want to see all of the cool animals that I never saw, but we did capture on our camera traps, check out “17 of the Coolest Animals on Mount Kenya.”
Stephanie Schuttler is a wildlife biologist with 17 years of experience in mammal ecology and conservation, education, and outreach. Read her inspirational story, “My Unexpected Journey Into Science” to find out how she went from the daughter of a jeweler to a Ph.D. in wildlife biology. Feel free to contact Stephanie here.