A new species of mammal may have been found in Africa’s montane forests

Each night in the forest had been filled with their vocalizations, where individuals counter call to another.

A research team from the University of Helsinki with the help of the Kenya Forest Services has discovered a tree hyrax in the Taita Hills, Kenya, which may belong to a species previously unknown to science.

The discovery, which was part of a study of the vocalisations of nocturnal animals in the Taita Hills, was published in mid-December in the scientific journal Discovery.

This individual, probably young female was first tree hyrax I saw. It was resting just about 4 meters above the ground. Females have smaller and rounder tusks.

Very little is known about the diversity and ecology of tree hyraxes because these animals, which look like large guinea pigs but are distant relatives of elephants, are mainly active at night in the tree canopies in Africa’s tropical forests. These animals are known to be able to scream with the strength of more than one hundred decibels, but the ‘strangled thwack’ calls that have been recorded in Taita’s forests have not been described anywhere else.

A male Tree Hyrax has bigger tusks and is much bigger.

The recordings reveal that the Taita tree hyraxes sing

The tree hyrax song may continue for more than twelve minutes, and it consists of different syllables that are combined and repeated in various ways.

“The singing animals are probably males attempting to attract females that are willing to mate,” postulates Hanna Rosti, who spent three months in Taita’s forests, following the nocturnal mammals and recording their vocalisations.

The results suggest that the two populations of dwarf galago in the Taita Hills may belong to different species. The calls of the animals of the smaller population are very similar to those of the Kenya coast dwarf galago, a species that has previously been thought to live only in coastal, low elevation forests. The peculiar calls of the second population cannot yet be linked with certainty to any known species.

Tree hyrax only lives in indigenous forest. It is dependent on tree cavities for safety

“The taxonomy of many nocturnal mammals remains poorly known, and many populations have not been studied at all yet,” says researcher Henry Pihlström, who reviewed the complex taxonomy of tree hyraxes and galagos for the published study.

Hyraxes belong to Paenungulata, their relatives are elephants and manatees.

According to the PHDs supervisor, emeritus professor Simon Bearder pointed out from recordings, that these tree hyraxes are new species.

Special features of tree hyraxes

  • Belong to Paenungulata with elephants and manatees
  • Small tusks
  • Teeth like rhinos
  • Dense fur
  • Three toes
  • Round body
  • Eat leaves, fibrous, low calorie diet
  • Slow metabolic rate
  • Complicated digestion system
  • Low body temperature
  • Internal testes
  • Whiskers around the body
  • Scent gland
  • Spends days in tree holes
  • Use toilets
  • Extremely variable vocal communication
  • Solitary
  • Nocturnal

Variable vocal communication suggests that this species has complex social behavior, even though they are solitary. Knowledge of these species and their behaviour is very limited.

Article from Science Direct & AnimalsTaita

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