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Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.

Zoology

A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.

Tree hyraxes don’t look like elephants. They are furry, they can climb trees and they weigh only around 3 kilograms. Yet these mammals, which live in African tropical forests, are among the closest contemporary relatives of the great grey beasts with swinging trunks.

Now, John Oates at the City University of New York and his colleagues have identified a new species of tree hyrax living in southeastern Ghana, southern Togo and Benin, and southwestern Nigeria, between the Volta and Niger rivers. Scientists knew these animals existed, but didn’t realize that they are a separate species from tree hyraxes in other parts of the region.

The first clue was their distinctive call — more of a bark than the shrieks of the hyraxes across the rivers. The team analysed hyrax mitochondrial genomes, fur colour and other traits. They concluded that the barking creature, which has a short, broad head and dark fur, is a new species, which they dubbed Dendrohyrax interfluvialis.

The area inhabited by the new hyrax deserves more conservation and scientific attention, the authors say.

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