the rock badger

One of my great pleasures, on my morning walks, is observing wildlife, and occasionally meeting with them face to face. Living in a suburb on the very edge of Jerusalem, I have more meetings with animals than I did years ago, when I lived pretty much in the center of town. There are numerous reptiles, and small mammals, and of course, many birds. There are a great variety of birds in Israel, because aside from our local residents, there are many exotic birds who visit us as they fly to and fro, from Africa to Europe in the summer, and then back to Africa as winter approaches. And strangely enough, it seems there are more birds in the center of town than in the suburbs. One of their favorite hang outs is in the vicinity of the Bikur Holim hospital, right in the center of the city.

walking on a foot path

More often than not, I don’t know the English names of the animals I meet. And when I look them up in the dictionary, I find names that no one has ever heard of. And this is particularly true of an animal I wish to tell you about today. The rock badger is a very common animal in Israel, and is found across central and southern Africa as well. In our country, they are considered similar to a rabbit, and rabbits are often called by the same name. but in studying them, I discovered that they’re not of the same family, and not even distantly related. In fact, the only animals they are related to biologically, are elephants and sea cows. They are light brown in color, about 40 to 50 cm in length, and weigh about 4 kg. In our country, they are known as the most timid of all animals, and they’re noted in our culture for being wise.

sitting on a fence at the edge of the park

It’s because they’re so shy, that I’ve been drawn to them. When I was young, they were always afraid of me, and used to scamper away as soon as I saw them, perhaps because I was often accompanied by my children or cats when out walking in nature. But in recent years I’ve had repeated meetings with them, and some of these meetings have been very pleasant. I’ve sat with them for 15 and 20 minutes at a time, and even had the questionable pleasure of having them talk to me. I say questionable pleasure because I didn’t understand them at all. But last week I sat with one of them for quite a while, and neither of us talked. And only after some time had passed, I took his picture, for in the past, opening my camera usually caused the badger to leave my company.

the rock badger in the wild

These animals live in groups from 10 to forty in number. They choose to live among boulders and rocks, and post sentries who give an alarm when seeing animals or humans who might threaten the group. Though famous for rock climbing, I have seen them climb trees with great agility. It is said, though, that they spend most of their time resting. What is interesting about them, is that they have many different vocal calls, sometimes referred to as ‘songs’, and one gets the impression that they have some sort of language based on different tones. They can be quite talkative when among their own, and not bothered by other animals. On rare occasions, I’ve met with two or three at a time. Usually, with one coming forward to meet me, and the others watching from behind. But most of the time it was one on one. Up until recently, I had met with them in their natural habitat, usually in a small forest close to my home. But last week, I spied one fellow in the park. And when I sat down and waited patiently, he came up close.


71 responses to “the rock badger

  1. An interesting animal. Lovely pictures Shimon!

  2. They remind me of our groundhog, but not as big. You did well getting them to pose for a picture. 😉

  3. How lovely to find out more about your rock badgers, they are very unusual looking animals. It’s wonderful that you can sit close by them and even have them come over to you. I love the pictures, the rock badger in the third one seems to be talking….I would really love to hear their songs!!! How curious that they are distantly related to elephants. It must be a real thrill to see a large group of them.

    I find it difficult to take pictures of wildlife, as you say, as soon as you move, the animals leave so often I just sit and watch.

    I really enjoyed this Shimon, I’d love to see some of your exotic birds too! xxxx

    • Actually, I’ve seen them in large groups quite often… more often than when I’ve met with one or two. But then, they usually stayed their distance. They are very social, and you can hear them talking to one another. When meeting with a wild animal, I don’t usually feel any urge to photograph them… just to make contact, and I let them do most of the work. If we really get comfortable, than I will try to photograph them occasionally, but I know it can scare them. Thanks for your comment, Dina.

  4. I especially enjoyed this post, Shimon! You know how I love animals! Learning about animals in others places, ones I may never see up close and personal is a treat. Thank you so much for this!
    The Badgers we have here in America are very aggressive. They burrow and are nocturnal. This was interesting to learn about your Rock Badger.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Ann. I learned the name from English speakers, but I think this animal is quite different from what you have in America. As far as I have seen, they’re not at all aggressive, and are quite playful. Thanks for the comment.

  5. orlando gustilo

    “…and neither of us talked.” Sometimes the most fruitful of connections is wordless LOL

    • Yes Orlando, there can be a lot of communication without words. Sometimes I get the feeling I know what they’re thinking… but not with these badgers. Still it is nice to get together with them.

  6. Great post Shimonz. Some American Indians believe you can talk through the eyes without ever saying a word. I have a friend that is Apache that told me he once carried on a conversation with another Apache at a bus stop for thirty minutes without saying a word. I know from being around my Cherokee friends that they hate it when you do not look them in the eye.

    Beautiful pictures. I love the bottom one and the one with the badger on the fence is amazing. They do not look like great climbers to me but would a raccoon to someone that doesn’t know about them?

    • I’ve never met an Apache, but I can tell you I’ve had many interchanges with animals and humans, without the spoken word. Looking a person in the eye can be complicated. Some people get suspicious if you don’t meet them eye to eye, and others are just the opposite. I traveled a lot when I was young, and met a lot of different people. There are many differences between people. But it is most challenging to make contact with wild animals. Thanks for the comment, BoJo.

  7. Just wonderful! 🙂

  8. This is a beauty, Shimon. My husband & I volunteered four summers w/National Park Rangers in Colorado. We tended 8 horses for them, living w/no running water on 50 acres. There was a Marmot colony and they are almost identical to the rock badger…so interesting to watch. I gave one of them a ‘shot’ so it could be fitted w/a tiny tracking device. Beautiful animals. Thanks for these wonderful pictures.

    • I visited in Colorado years ago, and it was a thrilling adventure. I did a lot of hiking, and loved the natural environment. Met a lot of animals off the beaten track too. I also met some rangers, and they were very cordial and generous people. Thanks for the comment, Vasca.

  9. Great captures, Shimon. S/he must have recognised your calmness/ lack of aggression.

    • I was unable to tell his sex, but because he was rather large, I assumed it was a male. And I have found that there are ways of showing respect to an animal. Some of these ways, I learned from my different cats over the years. Thanks, Richard.

  10. Such a lovely post; thank you, Shimon…two shy friends meeting and respectfully coming to know each other. Your “badgers” are of a different family than those we have here in the “Badger State” of Wisconsin. Ours are related to weasels and are pretty tenacious. I enjoyed this story so much and loved the photographs; thank you, again.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the post, Kitty. I have to tell you, though, that I am not at all shy. But I am respectful of all living things. Over the years, I have learned to relate to many animals, and it gives me great pleasure. Most of the time, I don’t photograph them, but I don’t find it necessary. These animals are quite common here, but having to translate to English, opens up difficulties. I know they’re not found in the Americas. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Shimon,
    How fun to be able to cultivate a relationship with these shy creatures. I love your photos of them. I think settling oneself and broadcasting an intention that we mean no harm creates a space where they can satisfy their curiosity with a sense of safety. It’s very sweet to connect with animals in nature in such a way.

    • I agree with you, Cathy. It’s a very sweet experience. I remember when I was a youth, I would read some science fiction, and there would be meetings between humans and intelligent beings from outer space. I always felt that we have so much to learn here, in relating to life forms that surround us, that we don’t have to wait for outer space. Thank you very much for your comment.

  12. I’ve never heard of a rock badger but I agree with another comment that they look like groundhogs (although groundhogs are a little cuter 🙂 ) Nice captures Shimon.

    • Honestly, Edith, though these rock badgers are quite common here and I’ve photographed them many times, I don’t believe that I’ve managed to catch their unique facial expressions yet. It’s very difficult to photograph a wild animal unless you’re in hiding, and I don’t work that way. But I do enjoy meeting them.

  13. be glad that your rock badger is smaller than elephants or sea cows – he is the small version, comfortable to visit your garden …

    • From my experience, Dietmar, the larger the animal, the easier it is to get along with them in most cases. I’ve had very nice meetings with bears, for instance, even though I know they inspire fear in many. And though I’ve never met an elephant in the wild, I get the impression that they are very sweet animals. Thanks for the comment.

  14. How enjoyable, to meet your rock badgers! It shows how close we can come even to timid creatures, if we are quiet, respectful and patient.

  15. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    I have never seen such a creature before. This was interesting indeed, thank you, Shimon 🙂

    Your morning walks are precious!

    • Thank you Noeleen. Yes, I think they’re just found in the middle east and in Africa, so I imagine you wouldn’t have bumped into one yet. And yes, It is a pleasure to see nature thriving and coming to life with the spring.

  16. settleandchase

    Fascinating, lovely creature! Made me grin 🙂

  17. Fascinating! I’ve never seen these before. By the way, according to Wikipedia, it is more commonly known in English as the rock hyrax.

    • Thank you, Graham. That’s a very strange sounding name. In Hebrew they have a name that sounds like bunny, so it’s hard to absorb this English name… Could be that if you don’t have them in your own country, you give them strange names too…

  18. The second picture is wonderful… I am imagining that this is the fellow that engaged your perception?
    Very different from the third picture. It looks like this fellow wanted none of it. The contrast is striking. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Actually, the guy in the third picture was earnestly trying to talk to me. But unfortunately, I didn’t understand a word. However we did finally just sit and enjoy each other’s company. Thanks for the comment, JH.

  19. Animals seem to sense the nature of the person they are encountering. If you are calm, most of them will remain calm also. Sometimes a chipmunk or squirrel will sit on my porch with me, watching me as much as I am watching them.

    • I agree, Bev. The most irrational animals I have encountered were pets, and they had all kinds of hang-ups from living with people. Most free animals are quite rational, and we only have to watch and listen to them in order to understand them. Of course, it always helps to learn about them from those who have had more experience.

  20. How interesting! I enjoy learning about nature, be it plant or animal, and these bashful badgers were fun to read about. In our neighborhood we have mostly squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, deer, and lots of birds, my favorite ones the large black and white (with a bright red head) pileated woodpeckers.

    • Now there’s a name I like, shoes… ‘bashful badgers’. I might even use that in the future when describing them. I have seen very few woodpeckers, but your description of them sounds wonderful. Thank you.

  21. The badgers here are mean and miserable, more like wild dogs. Yours looks more like a large rodent.

    • No, these are very amiable, and not at all like a rodent. They have a very well developed social life, and live in large groups. Thanks for your comment, Linda.

  22. I just had to return to my bank of digital picture memories of visits to Israel, when I saw your lovely pictures and read this delightful post. I Think this species is what we call Marmots; I compared my photos of families/groups of animals I saw at Ein Gedi, with your pictures, they do appear to be the same animals. I spent ages watching their antics and interplay when I saw them. They watched me, too. They are fascinating and amusing creatures.

    • Yes, I was advised by one English speaker that they were marmots, but learning about the marmots, it didn’t seem that this was the same animal. I am sure you could find quite a few around Ein Gedi, and so you were watching the very same animal that I enjoy watching, and they are very interesting… and amusing too. Thanks for your comment, menhir.

  23. How wonderful that you sit and talk with the badgers, and they don’t run away. You have a wonderful way with animals.

    • Well, sometimes they do run away, Angeline. Especially if I raise my camera to my eyes. So I’ve stopped doing that. And yes, I do like animals. Thanks for your comment.

  24. very difficult to take such pics…good catch!

    • I have to say that in this case, it’s more a matter of luck. They don’t seem to like photography, and aren’t willing to pose (smile), so it’s just once in a great while that I am able to catch them. Thanks.

  25. Hello again,
    According to a bit of further research the Rock Rabbit/Badger is a Hyrax, a kind of cousin, like you say, to elephants. It is I believe also referred to in the bible as a Shefan (my transliteration).

    The Hyrax can stay in very large groups, and probably breed ‘like rabbits’, (as we would say). They are great to watch, it makes for a very relaxing pastime. One of my pictures shows Hyrax climbing on a tree.

    Great post!

    • Oh, that’s great that you looked further. I like the use of the name rock rabbit. Because rabbits are very rare in our country, and we use the same name for rabbits, though there is a specific name for rabbits as well. Their name is pronounced ‘shafan’ in Hebrew, and it is also used to describe a person who is easily scared. I have often seen them climb trees, and the are agile, and have no trouble with it at all. Thanks again. I appreciate the information.

  26. Like the previous commenter, I did a little searching and found this animal referred to as a rock hyrax. You clearly enjoy them, but it seems that some other Israelis consider them a nuisance:

    I see that the rock badger/hyrax inhabits large parts of Africa:

    • Thank you very much, Steve. That link from the BBC was very interesting. Strangely enough, I haven’t heard complaints about the hyrax until now, but it’s to be expected that if one fellow likes something, another will think it a nuisance… As I mentioned earlier, I have seen them eating the grass in the park at the edge of town, and I thought they left it very much like a mower might. And they are pleasant creatures. Very good of you to share the information.

  27. I love the way you combine the factual information with your impressions and experiences. Your description of sitting with them is perfect – the best encounters with wildlife seem to be those is which we just sit and listen and look, quietly, without an agenda. Your thoughtfulness has created a relationship with them that now nourishes the rest of us; thank you.

    • And I do thank you for taking an interest… and agree with you, that one is able to learn more and reach out to others better, without an agenda. Ultimately, what’s important rises to the surface, and without raising any flags we find soul mates and friends, and sometimes fellows, whether among human beings or animals. Many times, I thought I understood… and then learned a lot more… it is a pleasure to get to know you too, Lynn.

  28. It’s a cycle, right? Learning, thinking you understand, realizing you don’t, learning more, and repeat! Hopefully in a spiral growing out rather than a coil winding around in the same space.

  29. There you go again, disturbing my memory banks. It looks like a marmoset but also like a creature also related to elephants and illogic. (is that good english?). We have groundhogs here that it comes close to but the mouth parts don’t match. I wonder why it’s called a badger. Wish I could remember the name of the other creature that is related to an elephant. You’re such fun to read. Thank you for the pictures. It helps.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Bob. Here we have a Hebrew name for the animal, and it certainly seems to fit. I have learned a number of English names… from this post as well. But I don’t know how they chose those names. It is always a great pleasure getting a comment from you, so I’m glad it’s fun. Thanks.

  30. Most intriguing! A creature I’d never seen or heard of before. Mr. Schwartzman’s identification of it as a hyrax does ring a bell, and several other commenters’ comparisons with different animals do seem apropos. Yet clearly it’s a unique and distinctive little beast with a very particular personality. How fortunate you are to commune with them.

    • I had never heard the name hyrax till I got some comments on this post, and it could be that that’s the scientific name for them. Our Hebrew name is as common here as rabbit probably is in western countries, so I hadn’t thought much about the name till I tried to write about the animal in English. It is fun to get to know them. Thanks for your comment, Kathryn.

  31. I love the photos of your furry friends. What a blessing to be able to encounter these creatures. In the spring we always have rabbits in the backyard, and they bring me endless delight.

  32. Beautiful pictures.

  33. Fascinating! I have never heard of Rock Badgers. They remind me of marmots, that live in the Northern hemisphere, in rocky mountainous places, but something tells me marmots are not related to sea cows or elephants! Thank you for sharing this–I like to picture you in silent communion with the Rock Badgers.

    • Seemingly, they never got to the Americas. Maybe because they are so shy and careful. And I’ve never heard of anyone turning one of them into a pet. This could be because they’re lives are built around a social network. They have no natural enemies here, so it’s a little hard to explain their shyness. And yes, relating to wild animals is a thrilling experience. Thank you so much for your comment, Naomi.

  34. I also indulge in the great pleasure of observing wildlife.
    At first I thought the rock badgers were a cousin of prairie dogs or guinea pigs but now that you mention they are closer to elephants and sea cows – how fascinating!

    • They are not so beautiful to look at, and they are very reluctant to befriend strangers or other species, but they are very intelligent, and if you do get a chance, a pleasure to know. Thanks for coming by and for your comment, plumerainbow.

  35. From Australia.
    I was absolutely astounded by you post. It is exquisite but I always thought that the rock badger was found in England and Ireland. It was such a surprise to discover its Israeli connection especially that it is so intimately connected with song. I include a Prayer I copied out 30 years ago. In my minds eye I remembered it as The Song of the Rock Badger and in my efforts to find this I came cross your site for which I am very grateful as it has some great posts. Here is the prayer just for your interest.
    Prayer of the Rock Badger.

    Lord I love the darkness
    The hours folk call the night.
    Where others see but blackness
    I know a lordly light.

    The light that burns within
    Each breathing hopeful heart
    And gives all living kin
    Of godliness some part:

    Lord I do love the sunlight
    Reflected by the moon.
    I move by it at midnight
    But hide by it at noon.
    Your daylight dawning blinds me
    Reveals me from above,
    Ungainly and unkindly
    Unworthy of your love.

    Lord I do love the darkness
    The hours folk call the night
    Where others see but starkness
    I know a lordly light.

    I dance between the trees
    Of this cathedral woods
    I scent the gentlest breeze
    And know your will is good. Mary O’Hara

    With love and thanks
    Mary Duffy

    • Thank you very much for coming by, and for sharing this beautiful reflection and prayer. You have made a touching contribution to this blog post, Mary.

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