Like all hyraxes, it is a medium-sized (~4 kg) terrestrial mammal, superficially resembling a guinea pig with short ears and tail. The closest living relatives to hyraxes are the modern day elephants and sirenians. The rock hyrax is found across Africa and the Middle East, in habitats with rock crevices in which to escape from predators. Their most striking behaviour is the use of sentries: one or more animals take up position on a vantage point and issue alarm calls on the approach of predators.
The rock hyrax has incomplete thermoregulation, and is most active in the morning and evening, although their activity pattern varies substantially with season and climate.
Prominent in and apparently unique to hyraxes is the dorsal gland, which excretes an odour used for social communication and territorial marking. The gland is most clearly visible in dominant males.
The rock hyrax has a prominent pair of long, pointed tusk-like upper incisors which are reminiscent of the elephant, to which the hyrax is distantly related (see below). The forefeet are plantigrade, and the hindfeet semi-digitigrade. The soles of the feet have large, soft pads that are kept moist with sweat-like secretions. In males, the testes are permanently abdominal, another anatomical feature that hyraxes share with their relatives elephants and sirenians.
Thermoregulation in the rock hyrax has been subject to much research, as their body temperature varies with a diurnal rhythm. However, animals kept in constant environmental conditions also display such variation and this internal mechanism may be related to water balance regulation.
Hyraxes live in herds of up to 80 individuals. These herds are subdivided into smaller flocks consisting of a few families. These families consist of 3 to 15 related adult females, a dominant male, and several young. The dominant male defends and watches over the group. The male also marks its territory to avoid any altercations.
In Africa, hyraxes are preyed on by leopards, Egyptian cobras, puff adders, caracals, wild dogs, and eagles.
Hyraxes feed on a wide variety of different plants, including both grasses and broad leafed plants. They are able to go for many days without water due to the moisture they obtain through their food. Despite their seemingly clumsy build, they are able to climb trees, and will readily enter residential gardens to feed on the leaves of citrus and other trees.
Rock hyraxes give birth to two or three young after a 6–7 month gestation period. The young are well developed at birth with fully opened eyes and complete pelage.
Rock hyraxes are very noisy and sociable. Adults make use of at least 21 different vocal signals.
They are known as dassies in South Africa
Rock hyraxes produce large quantities of hyraceum - a sticky mass of dung and urine that has been employed] as a South African folk remedy in the treatment of several medical disorders, including epilepsy and convulsions. Hyraceum is now being "rediscovered" by intrepid perfumers who tincture it in alcohol to yield a natural animal musk.