Saturday, June 21, 2014

SOUNDS OF KENYA – The sweet soothing serenade of the HYRAX

I am sitting up, WIDE awake at 3:30 in the morning in our Nairobi cottage.  While jet-lag may be partially to blame, the most likely culprit is the hyrax.  Let me tell you about the hyrax.

A fascinating creature, the hyrax looks like an adorable fluffy, over-sized rodent.  Looking at it, one might guess that it is the African equivalent of a guinea pig or a small-eared rabbit. 

A little bit of research reveals that the hyrax is not a rodent but is, in fact, the closest living relative to elephants and manatees.
This is a tree showing the relationship between hyraxes and their closest living relatives.

 Ages ago, the ancestors of our sleep-disturbing hyrax were the dominant grazers in Africa.  They were much, much larger and they were all over the grasslands.  Then the antelopes, impala, and wildebeest came along and won the competition for the grasslands by being more efficient grazers.  To cope, the hyrax became smaller and took to the trees, bushes, and rocks.  There are currently three species of tree hyrax, three species of bush hyrax and five species of rock hyrax.

All this sounds well and good.  Right now, you may be thinking, “Hyrax = cool, fuzzy, tiny elephant cousin, how adorable!  How could a creature so awesome be keeping you awake at night, Kenna?  Are they cuddling you too hard, making it difficult to breathe?  Are you really the kind of person that lays awake at night thinking about how awesome natural selection is?”  (Yes, I am, but that’s besides the point, so ignore it for now)

If you are thinking that, boy do I have news for you:  YOU ARE WRONG.

The hyrax is an evil, terrible, monstrous creature.  Their call, which only happens at night because they are nocturnal (or maybe they are nocturnal so they can maximize the evil effects of their calling) is the most horrific sound I have come across in Kenya.  Arguably, it is the most horrific sound in the entire natural world.  If you know of a worse one, please let me know.  Maybe that knowledge will help me sleep at night in a “a least it’s just a hyrax and not a (INSERT WORSE CREATURE NOISE HERE)” kind of way. 

Their calls can range anywhere from “The loudest, largest, longest bullfrog croak the earth has ever heard,” past “Is that really a dragon screeching outside my window,” to “Someone is torture-murdering a baby out there.”  It’s hard to know which version is worse. 
I fully expect you to now be thinking, “Surely, you must be exaggerating, Kenna.  You’re jet-lagged and lonely in the cottage.”  This is exactly why I recorded the little monsters.  See how long you can listen to this auditory torture:

Hopefully, at this point in the blog, you feel my sleepless pain.  Maybe tomorrow, or a week from now I will take comfort in the idea that people around the world are commiserating with me.  For now, I will try to find solace in the belief that someone, somewhere in the film industry loves the hyrax for its sound effect potential.


Julia said...

Oh, so THIS is why you spent months researching and purchasing all that fancy sound equipment! Next project: do cows have individual vocal signatures? This requires Kenna to individually record the MOOO of every cow that ever enters Talek camp and analyze their spectrograms. Good luck!

Scissors MacGillicutty said...


It's worse than you described!

Could I suggest making more recordings of this little horror and sending them to major Los Angeles SFX firms? I think you're right, and that your recordings will raise the bar for sounds of world destroying monsters in future science fiction films.

Anonymous said...

I believe that this is what they made earplugs for.

Amiyaal Ilany said...

A post about hyraxes in the hyena bog! Life is perfect! To do some justice to hyraxes, here is a rock hyrax song (your recording is of a tree hyrax):

Smale said...

Its a great tape, but what doesn't come through on my laptop is how LOUD those calls are. I never understood how a creature that small could produce such a noise. I love your description of it!

Nathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan said...

Ah, the Karen cottage. Picturesque 'Out of Africa' by day, and frightening hell scape by night. Somehow I actually forgot how awful that sound is!

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