The Story of Marula… opps – make that Hyrax!

When doing research for a blog article, we often stumble upon some interesting information that has nothing to do with the initial topic. In this case, we intended to write about the story of marula oil. The initial idea was to offer the story in two or three parts, depending on the eventual length of the blog post.

But, we found a description of a cave located in Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe. The cave, more specifically Pomongwe Cave, has produced intriguing archaeological findings dating back to pre-middle stone age, including nearly 40,000 stone tools, hearths, cave paintings, and bones – tortoise, large game animals and, most notably, bone fragments of the hyrax, apparently the main menu item for the cave’s inhabitants.

That is an old cave! But, the age of the cave was not what caught our attention. We had to stop and ask: What is a hyrax? That was a new one for us. Toyota builds a truck called Hylux, but we seriously doubt cave dwellers were munching on Toyotas of any model. So, instead of researching marula, we had to know more about the hyrax.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

To our surprise, we ended up on www.wired.com for a few “fun facts” about the hyrax. This little furry animal looks like a large guinea pig, but it is not a rodent. They are actually related to – ready for this? – elephants and manatees!

Somewhere in the evolutionary pathways, the hyrax and its cousins decided on different roads to travel. Today, the hyrax sports tusks, has a multi-chambered stomach (but are not ruminants), and males have testes that change with the season (hyraxes live in colonies usually dominated by a single male, who aggressively defends his territory and females from rivals and in mating season can have his testicles can grow 20 times larger than during the non-breeding season).

And they talk! And sing, and chatter… In fact, as noted in the wired.com article, “hyraxes have at least 21 different vocalizations, including trills, yips, grunts, wails, snorts, twitters, shrieks, growls, and whistles. Males also sing complex songs that can last for several minutes and serve a territorial purpose, like bird song. When researchers looked at how males put together different syllables (wails, chucks, snorts, squeaks, and tweets) to compose a song, they found the order of the syllables was significant; that is, hyrax songs make use of syntax, the manner in which different elements are combined. They also found hyraxes from different regions used different local dialects in their songs.”

Maybe they sing about marula!

Well, if they don’t, we certainly will. Stayed tuned for the Story of Marula in upcoming posts. We will try to keep on topic next time!

One thought on “The Story of Marula… opps – make that Hyrax!”

  1. What the author, my husband Tris Lahti, failed to say is that many hyrax live on the hill next to our house here in Botswana. Locals call them rock rabbits. Indeed they sing many songs, chattering away pleasantly. They also provide endless “chase” amusement for the dogs who charge up the rocks to catch them and never do.

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