The social media practice of the Israeli Hyrax

Dr. Amiel Illany from Israel breaks new grounds in the understanding of how Hyraxes maintain their complex social connections.

October 8, 2017 14:09
2 minute read.

Dassie (Cape Hyrax) photgraphed on Table Mountain, Cape Town in February 2005 by Anthony Steele. The photo was taken on the rocks near the upper cable car station. The sea is visible in the background.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Israeli scientist Dr. Amiel Illany became fascinated by the reason that hyraxes sing.

Two possible ideas were tested and rejected. The first was that hyraxes sing when they need help from other pack-mates. This idea was quickly rejected, becayse when a hyrax sings, it may not get any help at all. In fact, when a very young hyrax calls out, older hyraxes will join in the singing with a complex series of sounds and calls, but they do not offer aid.

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The other idea was that the hyrax calls to show to females and males of his kind that he is highly capable. This principle (invented by Israeli biologist Amotz Zahavi) claims that behaviors that are risky, like making loud noises that can attract predators, for example, are rewarded, as they are proof that the animal making the noise is strong and in good shape. For the same reason, peacocks have long tails, as only males who are very good at surviving could have the time and energy to spend on such an attention-calling quality.

Dr. Ilany is quick to point out that while we know why the hyraxes do not sing, we have no idea why they do. "The singing provides [other hyraxes] a lot of information, but we don't know what it is they learn from it exactly. We [have] found correlations between songs and age, hormones and social status."

This means that the songs are not unlike a Facebook page, a way to provide information about the member of a community.

And not unlike social media, it seems to be more meaningful for the person engaged in it then to other people.

"Female Hyraxes are fairly unimpressed [by songs]," says Dr. Ilany, "Sometimes a male will join [another male] and they will have a duet." Not unlike a thread or a chat on a Facebook wall between two people. 

This led Dr. Illany to consider that hyraxes are engaged in social behavior within their own group. It appears that hyraxes and other animals inherit social relations within their group because their parents introduce them to other group members. Just as in human families, hyraxes who come from well-connected families tend to maintain these relations, but a low-ranking hyrax will try to abandon old ties and create new social ties of their own.

The need to have familiar and reliable partners in the animal kingdom is explained by the fear of wasting time and energy looking for new friends and helpers. "With humans, this need has been broken by technology. We don't live in one tribe all day long, but in various tribes here and there. This also makes us unstable, as the commitment to working in the team is often in contrast to our obligation to our family and close friends," he explains. 

Thanks to a new sleeve that monitors how close the hyraxes are to other hyraxes at all times, even when inside their caves and tunnels, Dr. Illany hopes to better understand the social habits, and, if possible, the language of the hyrax.

Translated by Hagay Hacohen.

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