Both the male and the female Cape hyrax average a length of about 55 centimetres.
The male is significantly heavier than his female counterpart. Males weigh between 3.2 and 4.7 kilograms, while females are between 2.5 and 4.2 kilograms.
The Cape rock hyrax builds their dens in rock cavities or in holes in the rocky soil of mountain faces. They are also found in piles of rocks or boulders. Some are known to live in the tall trees near a cliff face, as they are accomplished climbers despite their somewhat cumbersome appearance.
The Cape rock hyrax can be found throughout Africa south of the Sahara Desert, as well as in some parts of the Middle East. In South Africa, they are prolific almost everywhere that these rocky conditions can be found. The only places in sub-Saharan Africa in which this little creature do not appear are the Congo Basin and Madagascar.
Diet - Omnivore
Dassies are foragers, and have a wide and varied diet. They graze on grasses, herbage, fruit, and leaves. But, they will also eat lizards, birds’ eggs and insects as and when they arise. While dining, dassies are always alert to predators, keeping their eyes fixed on their surrounds and their ears alert to any alarms.
They get a lot of their water from the foods that they eat, enabling them to survive for a relatively long time without direct access to clean water.
The rock hyrax feeds, forages, and lazes in the sun in large groups. In fact, seeing up to 80 of these animals together is not unusual. While feeding, a sentry is appointed – usually the male, who will stand on an elevated mound or rock and sound the alarm if there is any danger. When they hear the alarm, the others will quickly scuttle to safety, or remain completely immobile.
Thanks to their incomplete thermoregulation, hyraxes function best during the warmer hours of the morning and evening. During the heat of the day, they will be found sunning themselves. In fact, they spend up to 95% of their lives resting. On well-lit nights, they may also be active.
There is usually a dominant male hyrax, and several females and juveniles making up a herd. They will, interestingly, consider the ‘friend of a friend’ to be their own friend, establishing quite an advanced social system that is usually reserved for human beings.
Hyraxes use a specific area as a permanent toilet, which is kept away from where they live. Because of this, they have been successfully tamed and domesticated in many cases.
When feeling aggressive, the rock hyrax will make a chewing movement with its jaws and emit a loud grunt. Other than this, they have been known to make up to 21 different sounds as part of their complex communication structure with one another. In fact, just by studying the call, researchers can ascertain the caller’s age, weight, social status, hormonal state, and general health and wellbeing.
The dassie reaches sexual maturity at around 16 months old (although only being fully grown at about three years of age). After mating, it will give birth to between one and six babies (but usually two or three), following a long gestation period of about seven months. These babies are born in September and October, or March and April.
The babies are nursed for three months, but are born well developed and able to start eating soft vegetation from only two days old. Little ones are gathered together in a nursery group, which makes it easier to keep them safe from predators.
The Cape rock hyrax has a long pregnancy for its size, with a gestation period of seven months.
The dassie lives for about 10 years in the wild.
The most common predators of dassies are birds of prey, as they swoop down and snatch them while they graze or sun themselves. The Verreaux’s eagle favours this tasty meal; but owls, hawks and other eagles are also common predators. In addition, wild dogs, caracals, servals, civets, domesticated dogs, snakes and leopards pose a threat to hyraxes. However, their numbers are extremely healthy and there is no threat of them facing extinction in the near future.