Q: What would you call Dr. Seuss’s Lorax if he grew taller?
A: The Hyrax, of course!
I had never heard of these wondrous creatures before I visited Hermon National Park in northern Israel. And I might not have noticed them, had it not been for my curiosity about some stairs leading up a hill at this park. Explorer that I am, I decided that I had to see what was at the top. We climbed up accompanied by another gentleman from our group. When we were a few paces ahead of him, we heard him cry out–“Look! Some sort of large creature!”
I froze. Did mountain lions live up here? Was one crouched on the nearby boulder, preparing to pounce? We descended the stairs to see the fearsome beast.
It was a brown, furry, ball of cuteness with a surly face, poised atop the enormous boulder with a clear “king of the hill” attitude. It regarded us with disinterest, these lowly hairless creatures who had blundered into his realm.
Soon we discovered that there was a whole clan of hyraxes living on these boulders. In a reptilian way, they like to sun themselves because they lack good thermoregulation (like me). They are actually rather remarkable. Although they look like big rodents, they are actually related to elephants (they even have mini-tusks), and their ancestors have been sunning themselves on planet Earth for nearly 40 million years–20 times longer than modern humans have been around. Sergey and I went paparazzi on them, and a few indulged us by holding their poses.
Later, I was once again wandering in the park, this time behind some sort of utility building, when I spotted a small animal ahead.
“IT’S A BABY HYRAX!” I exclaimed and gave chase. He skittered behind a tractor away from my camera, but this time we had truly hit the jackpot: a whole extended family of hyraxes peered at us from the brush beside this building.
The nursery for the babies seemed to be indoors, through an open window; they played on a thick vine hanging from a tree, running up and down. One young fellow got too excited and tumbled off the vine to the ground, then picked himself up and ran back. It was seriously so cute it made me want to cry.
The time came that I had to leave my new quarry and resist the urge to take one back to Haifa with me. I will have to content myself with my hyrax photo album.