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Baby ‘Rock Rabbits’ Catch Keepers on The Hop

Longleat keepers are celebrating Mother’s Day early after their Arabian rock hyrax unexpectedly gave birth to triplets.

It’s only the second time the species, which is also known as the rock rabbit or dassie, has bred at the Wiltshire wildlife attraction and the new arrivals came as a big surprise to staff who were unaware the female was pregnant.

Resembling large guinea pigs, rock hyraxes are found throughout Africa and in parts of Asia.

Baby rock hyrax at Longleat
Baby rock hyrax at Longleat
Baby rock hyrax at Longleat

Longleat’s pair are part of a rarer Arabian subspecies, which makes the births even more welcome.

“To be honest we did not know for sure mum Dozy was expecting and so to come in and discover three tiny babies was fantastic,” said keeper Kim Ovens

“Although we can’t tell what sex they are yet, all three babies are doing extremely well and becoming more active and independent with every passing day,” she added.

Despite their rodent-like appearance the rock rabbits nearest living relatives are actually elephants with whom they share a common ancestor.

Like elephants they have tusk-like incisors which are larger and sharper in the males.

It has been estimated that, on average, rock hyraxes spend up to 95% of their day either resting or sunbathing. This is thought to be due to the fact they are not very good at regulating their body temperatures.

When there is no sunshine they will often snuggle up to each other in their dens – a behaviour which is known as ‘heaping’ and can involve dozens of rock hyraxes in the wild where colonies can be made up of up to 80 individuals.

Scientists have identified rock hyraxes make at least 21 different vocalizations, including trills, yips, grunts, wails, snorts, twitters, shrieks, growls, and whistles.

Males are also highly territorial and, like birds, will sing complex songs that can last for several minutes to make their presence known.