Hyraxes seem to be quite average little critters, resembling an over-grown guinea-pig and famous almost solely for being the closest living relative to elephants. They are indeed strange animals.
A hyrax’s brain is like an elephant’s, while its stomach is like a horse’s. The skeleton, however, is akin to a rhinoceros’s. The hind feet are entirely different from these animals, more like a tapir’s. Peeking into the mouth of a hyrax, you may recognize similar upper incisors from rodents’ teeth, upper cheek teeth from rhino’s and the lower cheek teeth like a hippo’s. They even have two teeth in their upper jaw that resemble elephant tusks. The overall anatomy of a hyrax, however, is like an elephant’s or horse’s.
Hyraceum was used by men long before perfumers did it. This substance has been a traditional remedy used in Africa and middle east for thousands of years.
It is not strange that other animal scents such as Civet, Muskdeer Castoreum and Ambergris belong to all traditional pharmacopeias with the same indications; epilepsy, convulsions and feminine hormonal disorders. All these animal odoriferous substances are in fact pheromones. Although all animals largely use pheromones in the reproducing process, very few of them, such as Civet, Muskdeer and Castoreum possess a specific gland that produces them in quantity to be expelled in a pure form from their body. Most animals, including humans, expel their pheromones together with sweat, urine and feces.
The same do Cape hyraxes, they produce large, communal piles of dung and urine that eventually congeal into a sticky mass which is Hyraceum. They choose a place nearby their homes and it is probable that this odoriferous mass has a social pheromonal function (for example regiulating the sexual maturity of the individuals), as well as marking the territory of the colony.
It is said that perfumery Hyraceum is fossilized, and it is in fact extremely dry and hard like a stone, but I could not ascertain how old is the product, 10 000 years as some say, or are just a few years in the dry climate of south Africa sufficient to dry it out so thoroughly?
The tincture is obtained by infusing the powdered raw material into pure alcohol for a few weeks.
The smell is akin to Castoreum but has a distinct urinary note that can be found only in goat hair tincture among perfumery materials.
Hyraceum definitely has an affinity with human beings, as its medical use shows. Its smell as well is not disgusting as one may think, but it could be described as “interesting”, even to unprepared people who not in the least perfumers.
In fact we are genetically conditioned to react to this type of smells, particularly women who by their nature of mothers have to do “biologically” with children’s urine and excrements.
Pheromones from different species are not that much different, even those of insects and mammals. This is why we human can be influenced by such substances, and aromatic Hyraceum can certainly participate in the construction of the tri-dimentional perfume
Scritto Da – salaam Attar on 24 Dicembre 2006 15:40:51