Monday, January 21, 2008

The harmonious lives of the hyraxes

Hyraxes are furry and rabbit-sized with blunt heads and small ears, and are found in Africa and the Middle East. They live in large family groups numbering up to 20 animals, with females outnumbering males by as many as two to one. There are rock hyraxes, and on the rocky and densely vegetated hillocks of Africa's Serengeti plain, rock and bush hyraxes live side by side in close accord.

Both types of hyrax sleep in the same holes and huddle together for warmth, and also make many similar calls. Newborn hyraxes are sniffed intensively by animals of both species, and the young ones play together. This relationship is one of the closest known between two species of mammal. Only some apes and monkeys, for example - have a similar close association.

The two species of hyrax can coexist because they do not compete for food. Bush hyraxes eat leaves and rock hyraxes feed mainly on grass. Yet despite their similarity and closeness, the two species do not interbreed. Mating behaviour is different, and their sexual anatomy is incompatible.

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