Longleat keepers are celebrating after their Arabian rock hyrax unexpectedly gave birth to triplets.
It’s the first time the species, which is also known as the stone badger 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.
Longleat’s pair are part of a rarer Arabian subspecies, which makes the births even more welcome.
“To be honest, we were not anticipating them to give birth and so to come in last month and discover three tiny babies was fantastic,” said keeper Rebecca Earner.
“The parents have been here for more than four years and this is the first time they have reproduced. 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, their nearest living relatives are actually elephants who they share a common ancestor with. 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 vocalisations, 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.