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A hyrax is a small furry mammal which is also called the rock rabbit. The hyrax also happens to be the closest living relative of elephants and manatees.

They are mostly found in the Sub-Saharan African region and some parts of the Middle East. There are currently five hyrax species known in the wild.

But scientists confirmed that they found another species of a tree hyrax in west Africa that inhabits the forests between the Niger and Volta rivers, an area that encompasses some parts of Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, Popular Science reported.

 Elephants' New Cousin, A Hyrax Species, Can Produce Bark-Like Sound Rather Than A Shriek Call
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A Hyrax at the Pueblo Zoo in Pueblo, Colorado in the year 2009.

The Sixth Hyrax Species Can Bark Like a Dog

Anthropologist and primate ecologist John Oates of the City University of New York led the study of the new hyrax species. He said that there are more things to discover about the tree hyrax. After decades of studying animals in the West African forests, it is his first time to see a tree hyrax in the wild when his colleague installed a camera in the forests.

But even before seeing this new hyrax species, Oates noted that the sound that it makes is truly unique compared to other hyraxes. He named the new species Dendrohyrax interfluvias, which has a chunky furball appearance like other hyraxes but has a very distinct call.

Unlike other hyraxes that produce a shrieking call, the  Dendrohyrax interfluvias produce more of a bark-like sound that resembles the sound that dogs make.

Study co-author Simon Bearder, a professor emeritus at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, said that they first became interested with the call way back in 2009 when they heard the sound while searching bush babies with Oates in western Nigeria. 

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New Hyrax Species Could Be at Risk of Extinction

Bearder's decades-long experience studying the sounds of nocturnal animals gave him the knowledge that the unique call was from a tree hyrax, although they do not know which one. But it was obvious that they are a different tree hyrax species.

They analyzed hundreds of calls and even studied DNA samples of a hyrax collected from local hunters and markets. They found that the hyraxes that live between the Niger and Volta have different skull features, fur color, call sounds, and genetic markers than those from other western tree hyraxes.

Researchers said that the newly described species could also mean that conservation efforts are needed because they are at risk of extinction as they are unique only to a small area where it was found.

They published their study, entitled "A new species of tree hyrax (Procaviidae: Dendrohyrax) from West Africa and the significance of the Niger-Volta interfluvium in mammalian biogeography," in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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