What's new at Basel Zoo

After a break of 16 years, Basel Zoo once again has some baby rock hyraxes. Four little ones can now be seen in the large indoor enclosure of the Etosha house.

These new arrivals are the pleasing result of a group that was put together just a year ago. The two females and one male got on well, sparking hopes of them producing young. At first, five little rock hyraxes could be seen in the enclosure on 16 August, but one was too weak to survive and had to be put down. The others are developing fantastically well and becoming more active every day. It is not yet clear if the little ones are male or female.

These births are even more welcome given that all previous efforts to establish a new breeding group failed. Rock hyraxes are very picky about their choice of partner, and introducing new animals to each other is a difficult process. This is also the reason for the long wait since the last birth in 2003. Only importing a new male from Stuttgart in 2018 and two female siblings from the Netherlands resulted in success.

Communal living with hiding places

Rock hyraxes are born after a very long pregnancy of seven to eight months. One unusual characteristic is that all the females in a group usually give birth at the same time. They produce one to five young, and younger females generally have fewer babies than older ones. The babies, weighing around 200 grams, are already hairy and very well developed when they are born and are immediately able to run around. They start eating plants after just a few days.

The rock hyraxes live in the Etosha house in a large community with ground squirrels, red-billed hornbills, sociable weavers and black-cheeked lovebirds. This arrangement works very well thanks to the individual hiding places made available to all species. There is also sufficient food, preventing jealousy and thus arguments.

Herbivores with grippy feet

Rock hyraxes look a lot like very large guinea pigs with thick brown fur. The soles of their feet are leathery and grip especially well, enabling them to run away quickly when there are birds of prey or other predators nearby. Rock hyraxes are total herbivores and go searching for food in groups. A group consists of a dominant male, females of reproductive age, and their young. Young animals become sexually mature between the ages of one and a half and two and a half, at which point young males leave the group.

Rock hyraxes are the most common hyraxes in Africa. They primarily live in southern Africa but can also be found in the north. They live in colonies and prefer rocky landscapes, since rock crevices and caves serve as refuges and safe havens as well as places to bring up their young.