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  • Writer's picture5 Senses CulinaryTours

It's a Dassie

Every time I go up to Table Mountain for those magnificent views of the ocean, Cape Town and Lions Head (which I must climb next time), I end up enthralled with the Dassies. These little furry ones looking like a cross between a rabbit and a guinea pig, here are so used to humans they actually pose for you. Ten photos of the scenery and twenty of the dassies.

Okay so they are called Dassies, but they are Rock Hyrax one of four living species of the Hyracoidea family. They live in Africa and throughout the Middle East. Their uniqueness covers a very large inventory of surprising traits.

Dassies have the unique ability to eat aromatic and resinous bushes that other animals won’t eat. They survive without water or very little so they excrete very high concentrated urine. Plus they always urinate in the same spot which gradually turns into a black resinous material… that locals call “dassiepis” claiming it was used by traditional healers for a list of ailments, scorpion stings to snakebites. I am not sure there is scientific research to concur, but they are enabling climatologists to study the environmental history of rocky areas where traditional techniques – such as taking a core – are not viable. Dassies like specific locations underneath rocky overhangs and generation after generation of they will use that same spot – called a midden. The urine crystallizes and what you end up with is a block of solid, stratified material which provides the sort of historical record that is otherwise impossible to find in these dry, rocky parts of the world. Thus, Dassies are doing their part for climate change.

But that’s not where I was going – they are related to the Elephant. Despite the enormous difference in size between the two, research has claimed the dassie is the African elephant's closest living relative. That is pretty hard to swallow, especially when you throw in the sirenians – manatees and dugongs. But they do live four times longer than most small animals, normally around 15 years.

The dassie and the elephant, sounds like the children’s book, share these unusual characteristics: analysis of the teeth in the skull proved it was related the same tooth structure, their skeleton, regulating of their body temperature, the same padded toes, and Hold-On - this will win the Trivia contest – both keep their testes locked away in the abdomen! Yes, now come to think of it, of all the elephants I’ve tracked, bathed or feed, never have I seen his balls.

Recent morphological and molecular-based classifications reveal the sirenians to be the closest living relatives of elephants, which is totally understandable. While dassies are still closely related, they form a taxonomic outgroup to the assemblage of elephants, sirenians, and the extinct orders Embrithopoda and Desmostylia. Technically correct, but that just takes the fun out of it!

Hope you win big at Trivia!

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