Listen to this. It certainly had us laughing in the office!
When I first heard that rock dassies (or rock hyraxes if you like) sing I will admit to reacting with a good deal of scepticism, if not downright disbelief. It’s not that I haven’t spent any time watching dassies, it’s just that, well, I have never heard any of them singing. It was about the time I first read the science behind singing dassies that I came across Giovanni Mari’s fab picture of a dassie in full cry on Africa Geographic’s Facebook page.
But was it singing? Sure looks like a full operatic rendition to me! ‘My dassie picture was taken in the Kokerboom Forest near Keetmanshoop in Namibia,’ Giovanni told me. ‘I was wandering in the forest when I spotted a dassie among the rocks bathing in the sun – it was the first time I had ever seen this amazing creature, let alone photographed one. And I started to look for others in order to take some more shots,’ he explained. While interesting, that didn’t answer my question. Was it singing?
‘One of the animals was eating a plant [the one in the photo at the top of the blog],’ he continued, ‘and when it spotted me, it stood up and started alarm calling.’ So, this is not a picture of a dassie singing! What a disappointment! Still, a brilliant picture, and it’s definitely vocalising.
For the real McCoy I turned instead to Amiyaal Ilany from Tel Aviv University in Israel, who’s been studying the songs of dassies. (It turns out that these animals are among a small collection of mammals that do sing, such as bats, whales and primates). Not only did he provide me with a digiscope picture of a dassie in full song to share on this blog, but also some recordings of the sounds! Yup, dassies really can sing.
And if you want to find out more about dassies and their songs then check out my article ‘Rock Stars’ in the December issue of Africa Geographic. No songs (unless you get the iPad edition of the mag), but some pretty amazing facts about the who, what and why of singing dassies.