Up close, but don’t get

The little rock hyrax abounds in Israel

The little rock hyrax abounds in Israel. (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
The little rock hyrax abounds in Israel.
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
We don’t have elephants in Israel. They are simply too large for our small country.
While they used to roam here in prehistoric times, they do not anymore. Fortunately, we have their distant cousin – the rock hyrax.
Strange as it may sound, the little hyrax comes from the same family as the elephant.
Obviously not in its appearance, but what makes the hyrax a close relative of the elephant (and the manatee) is its bone and tooth structure.
The little rock hyrax is an interesting animal.
Social in nature, it lives in colonies of up to 100 animals. The colonies are divided into several groups. The hyrax is active during the day but hides among the rocks at night.
All the females stay in the harem in the colony, while the young males are forced to leave and fight their way into a different group. This keeps the gene pool pure and renewed. Old males are allowed to live within the colony. Every group is led by a dominant male that seats himself on a lookout in his territory. He calls out often to let rivals know that his bunch of rocks is occupied.
Hyraxes are mainly herbivores. They eat grass and leaves, often climbing up trees.
However, they can also be seen grabbing an insect here and there if they get the chance.
The hyrax looks a bit clumsy; but if danger is present, it becomes very fast, running with great agility on the sharp rocks, thanks to the rubbery pads on the bottom of its feet. Living in a colony makes life safer due to the many eyes available to look for danger.
The natural predators of hyraxes are eagles, leopards, snakes and sometimes wolves. Once an enemy is spotted, the hyrax has a variety of calls to alert the members of its group and beyond. They then speed into the shelter of their rocky habitat.
The hyrax has a unique way of dealing with the dramatic temperature differences between day and night in the desert.
During the heat of the day, it can regulate its body temperature from the regular 36.3° by increasing it by 7.5°. At night it will lower its body heat to 7.5° below its average.
This is one of the reasons you will see them lying on a hot rock in the morning hours to catch some sun and raise their core temperature after the cold night.
In Israel, we can see hyraxes on rocks and cliffs throughout most of the country, from the Hermon, Golan, Galilee and Carmel mountains to the Judean Desert. One of the best places to observe them up close is the Ein Gedi nature reserve. In Ein Gedi, the hyraxes are accustomed to humans, so you can get up very close to them. However, keep in mind that these are wild animals, so do not be tempted to touch one, as cute as it may be.