Dassies 2 – Back in a flash

“Well that’s got rid of them,” I said to my wife with satisfaction, knowing how shy dassies are in the wild.

Half an hour later we looked out the kitchen window and there they were, on the lawn, in the flower beds, in the trees, munching …

We could not harm them, they are far too amusing and attractive, chubby fellows of about three to five kilos with smooth brown coats who, when not eating our garden, perch on the boulders or bound across the rocky “beach”. Their tiny dark babies, up to six at a time, are cuter than Disney’s dreams.

We have been in a state of Cold War for over fourteen years now. It’s not painful (except when one of us gets bitten). It is a titanic clash of wills: their skill and cunning versus our cunning and skill, gardeners’ dedication versus insatiable appetites. Nobody will win but there is no way we can outlast a fast-breeding colony like this one. They will be part of the kids’ inheritance.

So far we’re about even. My wife buys new plants, curses reflexively when she finds them eaten and goes off to buy more. To the dassies we are now an accepted part of the supply chain, a human supermarket. We are a constant source of food, as elephants are to dung beetles.

We know them all so well now some have become distinct individuals and we give them names. Not that they answer but it’s nice to know who’s eating the geraniums today.

The small enclave where we and our few neighbours live is perfectly sited for animal access from both sea and landward sides, a storm water tunnel under the road providing a route for those from the mountains. In the belt of raw territory between houses and sea there is a host of wild creatures. Some function by night, some by day and others around the clock.

They have largely replaced the creatures who were so important a part of our wilderness life. They are much smaller but their vivacity, their personalities, their tastes and their extraordinary lifestyles are endlessly fascinating. They have revived our spirits by bringing back to us much of the purity of the wilderness we lived for.

Between us we and our neighbours keep a pretty constant watch on all this activity. Hawk-Eye Kathy watches them like a hawk with her binoculars from the north and to the south Liz the Lens gathers an impressive record with her formidable Nikon battery of three cameras and ten lenses ranging from macro to 800mm.

After the dassies we met the fascinating, full-of-fun Cape clawless otters, the agile Cape grey mongoose families, the sleek large-spotted genets, the once shy and now bold porcupines, pretty striped mice, rare pygmy mice, penguins, seals, geckos and as for birds … well that’s another whole story.

To be continued, Friday 1 August ….

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Dassies 1 – The Munchers

 Nothing punctures self-esteem like discovering how ignorant you are – especially when the puncturing is by a bunch of insouciant animals.

After years of living in the bush I thought I was thoroughly familiar with wildlife and knew it all. I sneered at city dwellers with supercilious conceit – novices who wouldn’t survive a day in the milieu of elephants, lions, antelopes and safari ants.

When a twist of fate forced my wife and I reluctantly back into the urb we resigned ourselves to all the things we had fled from: crammed suburbs, snarling traffic, trains, crowds, ghastly shopping malls like garish prisons, rates, beggars, garbage, squabbling politics. That’s it, we gloomed, goodbye nature.

We were so wrong.

Our new home is at a far end of a small sleepy Victorian village on the Cape Peninsula. It is in an unusual place, some fifteen metres from a stretch of seashore covered in heavy rocks and closed at each end by gigantic granite and sandstone boulders. At the high-water mark is a very old freshwater well filled by underground streams. Between house and surf is a blend of bush and grass. Behind us, above a road and suburbia, are the craggy Peninsula mountains.

Nature caught us by surprise the first time we walked through the gate into the garden: an army of rabbit-size animals was voraciously chomping our lawn, flowers and even the leaves of trees.

I recognised them easily enough. They were dassies, animals that in the wilderness one rarely sees for more than an instant as they streak at Formula One speed into the holes and crevices of the rocky koppies they inhabit. As a boy I had tried hunting them to collect enough skins for a kaross but it was nigh impossible: they have sentries everywhere. One hoarse bark and they vanish like magic.

Not this lot. They were all over the garden as if they owned the place and we were the trespassers. Some sidled a few cautious steps away. Most turned to fix beady eyes on us, jaws still grinding from side to side in their typical chewing style. If the nearest could have spoken he would have demanded “And who may you be?”

We stopped in astonishment. Then I roared “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!” in a drill sergeant bellow so loud my neighbours jumped.

In seconds the garden was empty. They shot through open gates, leaped over dilapidated fences, skinned up trees, dived into bushes and scuttled through holes. The last we saw was the tail-enders bouncing across the grass towards their rock shelters like furry beach balls.

To be continued next Friday 25 July ….

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