„There is a dassie!“ I heard from afar.
After a three-hour long hike up to the Table Mountain in South African’s famous city Cape Town, I was gazing lost in thought and happily into the distance when I heard people calling excitingly something about dassies.
Probably most visitors in South Africa are interested in seeing wild animals anywhere like, for example, elephants, buffaloes, leopards, lions or rhinos (together the “Big Five”). These animals attract many people to South Africa.
Dassies, in constrast, appear quite inconspicuously when compared to all these bigger animals. To be honest, before Table Mountain visit, I was not aware of meeting dassies on the top among all these rocks, neither. Although they appear not very conspicuously in the first moment, after the first sight, I was so thrilled about these animals.
For me it was the first time seeing dassies. They are small, but somehow cute. They look a little bit like guinea pigs, hamsters or maybe rabbits (at least when we just consider the size…). However, their closest relatives are not guinea pigs, hamsters or rabbits. No. Their closest relatives are elephants and manatees! Unbelievable. Therefore, it is time to learn more about these animals.
Dassies (Procavia capensis) reach about the size of a guinea pig. Their fur color varies between brown and grey and their soles of the feet are adapted to a rocky terrain in order to move easily through their habitat. Dassies reach lengths of about 60 centimeters and they weigh about 5 kilograms. They mostly feed on grasses, sprouts, buds, fruits and berries. Dassies are gregarious animals and live in groups of approximately 2 to 26 individuals. One group consists usually of a male and several females with their offspring. Sometimes the group accepts a second, but lower ranking male.
Dassies are also very vocal animals. They produce sharp barks when they perceive danger. Mostly the dominant male or a female watches out for dangers when the rest of the group is feeding or sunbathing. If there is a threat, the guarding dassie is warning the whole group.
I did not hear any dassie calling during my time in South Africa.
But anyway, why are elephants and manatees the closest relatives of dassies?
The answer is coded in the DNA.
Elephants, manatees and dassies do not resemble in their appearance, but in their DNA they inherited from their common ancestor.
Visit the dassies on the Table Mountain
It is not surprising to see dassies on the Table Mountain as they prefer rocky and arid terrain. Furthermore, they enjoy the sun for sunbathing and warming up. On many days there is a lot of sun on the Table Mountain.
When I was on the Table Mountain I saw a few dassies, but no big groups.
There was a stone wall from where I could take some pictures of them.
Usually when I take pictures of animals I prefer at eye level. But on this day it was not possible.
Visit the dassies at the Tsitsikamma National Park
There is another great place where it is easy to observe dassies. This is the Tsitsikamma National Park.
I visited the Tsitsikamma National Park twice. On my first visit I was at the Tsitsikamma National Park to join a dolphin researcher the whole day on a boat. When I was at the Tsitsikamma National Park I was just speechless with admiration of the breathtaking landscapes.
I thought on my first visit: I have to come back.
Nevertheless, on my first visit at the Tsitsikamma National Park and before we left by boat to search for dolphins, I observed a single dassie relaxing on a handrail of stairways.
The dassie was very relaxed and apparently not afraid of my presence and my camera. Anyway, I was there only for a few seconds and left. I did not want to disturb. I stayed a little bit further away and finally left for the boat.
On my second visit I had some more time, and luckily, I saw more dassies. But this time, I saw not only one dassie. No. I even saw a family of dassies.
They hid behind a tree trunk, but it was still possible to get a glimpse into their life. There was a mum feeding their offspring with milk and probably a male guarding them.
I did not see bigger groups of dassies in the Tsitsikamma National Park, neither. I just saw this family of dassies and some single dassies close-by.
Sometimes on a tree…
… and sometimes on rocky terrain where dassies feel most comfortably.
Dassies in the Tsitsikamma National Park do not seem to care about all those visitors around.
However, as much I enjoyed seeing more dassies in the wild, I wanted to visit the Tsitsikamma National Park also because of its breathtaking nature.
Ocean and green, rocky gorges characterize the landscapes. I could have watched the sea there for hours.
I combined my visit at the Tsitsikamma National Park with a Canopy Tour. It was an amazing experience lingering at least for some time in the treetops in the Tsitsikamma National Park. Luckily, I do not have fear of heights.
The Canopy Tour is also interesting for bird watchers. The tour guides have a good knowledge of the South African bird life and know to name birds. We saw and hear especially quite often the Knysna turaco.
But dassies, of course, we did not see in the canopy of the Tsitsikamma National Park…