Hyraxes are medium-sized mammals that live in the canopy of tropical forests. They are shy and only move at night, which is why almost nothing is known about their habits or behavior.
However, researchers from the University of Helsinki have now managed, through a combination of different techniques, to observe the life of a native species of hyrax living in the fragmented montane forests of the Taita Hills in Kenya.
The movements of nocturnal tree dormouse were monitored using a thermal imaging camera. The camera revealed which tree and climbing species were particularly preferred by the tree hyrax, which leaves they ate and which species offered them suitable hiding places during the day. The new data showed, among other things, that hyraxes are social. They don’t sulk in a tree fork, as has hitherto been commonly assumed.
In the dark hours of the night, the automatic sound recorders placed in the forests inhabited by tree hyrax collected a wide range of information about communication between the animals and their other activities. Thanks to the records, it was possible to estimate the number of hyraxes in the various patches of forest in Taita Hills. The estimated population is no more than 2,000-4,000 people.
“In small patches of forest, tree dormouse calls were rare and only heard in the early hours of the morning. These few surviving animals do everything they can to avoid detection and the attention of potential poachers,” says PhD student Hanna Rosti from the Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences, who has been studying hyrax for a long time.
Hyrax forests were previously scanned by laser from the air. Models of forest structure created with airborne laser scanning devices (lidar) confirmed that hyrax particularly prefer locations where the forest is dense and highly structured, and where the largest trees reach a height of more than 45 meters.
“The results obtained from this research will significantly advance hyrax conservation not only in the Taita Hills but also in other parts of Africa. The methods used can also be applied to other nocturnal animals that are difficult to get close to,” says Professor Jouko Rikkinen from the Finnish Luomus Museum of Natural History at the University of Helsinki.
Any research results will have valuable practical utility as attempts are made to increase reforestation efforts at Taita Hills through actions designed to promote the protection and conservation of the numerous endemic species.
Materials provided by University of Helsinki. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.