RZSS Edinburgh Zoo’s latest new arrivals are tiny in size but have much larger family ties. The Zoo has recently welcomed two baby rock hyraxes who were born in the middle of February to mum, Sarabi. The youngsters, one male and one female, have been staying in the burrow but are now starting to jump out to explore their surroundings in the Scottish sun. These small creatures are probably most well known for their distant relation to the elephant and often look as if they are smiling happily for the camera.
This is the first time mum Sarabi has bred and the babies are doing well. Hyrax babies are quite fully developed when they are born and normally start running and jumping about as soon as an hour after birth. The youngsters will suckle until they are three months old, but often begin to eat plants from their second day. Rock hyrax litters normally consist of two to three young, but they can sometimes have as many as four babies in one litter. Unlike other small mammals, the rock hyrax has a much longer gestation period of seven and a half months.
Fossil remains show that there were once hyraxes the size of cows, which could explain the longer gestation period. These rock-dwelling mammals are so unique that they have been placed in a separate order by themselves, Hyracoidea. Rock hyraxes are normally grouped with elephants, dugongs and sea cows as ‘sub ungulates’ and it is believed they all may have descended from a common stock.
Lorna Hughes, Animal Team Leader at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo said: “Our rock hyrax babies are doing really well and they were up and running about soon after they were born. We haven’t named them yet as we normally wait a while before we name any new-borns. People are always really fascinated and interested when we tell them the hyraxes are distant relatives of the elephant.
“The rock hyraxes here at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo love basking in the sun, and can often be seen lazing about on the rocks; this is because rock hyraxes have poorly developed thermoregulation. When it’s cold and rainy, as is often typical of Scottish weather, they prefer to stay in their burrows to try keep warm, but now with summer approaching they are often seen outside enjoying the sun.”
The rock hyrax can be found across Africa and some parts of the Middle East. They love to hang out on rocky areas and prefer to hide in the nooks of cliff faces. They have black rubbery pads under their feet which help them to grip onto rocky and slippery surfaces. Hyraxes are very adaptable creatures; in East Africa they can be found living at sea level and at altitudes of more than 14,000 feet. Their habitats also range from dry savannah to dense rainforest.
RZSS Edinburgh Zoo is currently home to six adult rock hyraxes and the two babies. The herd lives in a large rocky enclosure with plenty of rocks and crevices for them to jump and run about.
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