Robberg Nature Reserve has a host of interesting species to find and see. While some of these, like the caracal, are a rarer sighting, animals like the rock hyrax Procavia capensis are plentiful and you can often find one basking on a rock in the sunshine. Hyrax are more commonly known as dassies by South Africans, and tend to look like overgrown guinea pigs, reaching a size of 45-60 cm in length, and 2.5-4.6 kg in weight. They are stoutly built animals with short legs, small rounded ears, and no tail. There is huge variation in rock hyrax fur colour which can be yellow-fawn to dark brown above, and slightly pale below. The rock hyrax is a wide spread species occurring in southern Africa, but is absent from the north-central areas of southern Africa, the Namib Desert coastal belt, and most of Mozambique. Throughout their distribution, they tend to inhabit rocky areas but can also be found in holes in erosion gullys, or amongst the roots and leaves of sisal, prickly pear, and spekboom. Rock hyrax feed on the leaves, bark, and fruit of a wide variety of plant species. They can climb into trees and bushes to feed and because of this can be misidentified as tree hyrax. Feeding generally occurs in the morning and afternoon, and they avoid the midday heat in the shelter of rocky outcrops. Rock hyrax also spend a lot of time basking in the sun during which time one of the group, generally an adult male or female, keeps watch for predators. With the ‘guards’ barked warning the group will run for safety in the rocks. Rock hyrax are hunted by Verreaux’s eagles, crowned eagles, leopards, caracal, and African wild cats. In some areas they are hunted by humans for meat and skins.
Written by: Minke Witteveen
For further reading:
- Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. 2007. Field Guide to Mammals of southern Africa. Struik Nature: Cape Town. Pp. 182-185.
- Butynski, T., Hoeck, H., Koren, L. and de Jong, Y.A. 2015. Procavia capensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008. Accessed: 2016-10-08. URL: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41766/0.