Hyrax: The fang-toothed rock creature related to elephants

In Africa there live a group of curious, fuzzy, squat, rodent-looking creatures called rock hyrax. Also known as rock badgers, rock rabbits and rock dassies (it’s a wonder these creatures don’t suffer personality disorders!) these little toothy guys build their homes in a labyrinth of tunnels and holes in rocky canyons.  

And boy are they fun to photograph. They just stare and stare, frozen as if they think you can’t see them, but as soon you blink or look away boom! they disappear like rabbits in a hat. Or badgers or hyrax. 

rock hyrax with unusual markings

The dassie above, which I photographed near Windhoek in Namibia, was sporting a rather dashing toothbrush moustache marking and equally expressive mouth.  Perhaps it was channelling Charlie Chaplin or another infamous but less amusing historical chap.

We also met a couple of tame dassies at the wildlife sanctuary where I volunteered, one of which loved to be cuddled by my friend Anneli and in return licked her tattoos with happiness!

Rock Hyrax licking a lady's shoulder

This particular dassie lives with one other and three nearly full-grown warthogs in an enclosure at the sanctuary and guess who rules the roost? Not the warthogs that’s for sure! And yes that is the same Dassie sun-bathing on top of a sleeping warthog!

rock hyrax lying on top of a warthog

Always curious to learn more about the wildlife that I photograph, here are some interesting facts I discovered about rock hyrax:

1. They spend A LOT of time sun-bathing or sleeping on top of each other in their rocky dens.
2. They sport sharp Vampire-like teeth that hang over their bottom lip and which I think make them look a bit goofy (the male has longer fangs than the female)
3. They’re apparently related to elephants!
4. They also have sweaty feet ….

So there you have it – a sleepy, moustached, fanged, elephant-beastie with foot odour and a penchant for tattoos. Who knew?

rock hyrax peering out from cave

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