The pro side outweighs the cons, to us in our mini-reserve. Just one reward is the faces of children dropping pieces of bread at their feet while dassies mill around them expectantly. And when they see Ma, Pa and Junior mongoose staring through the window pane early on an icy winter morning. And when the long-tailed sugarbirds and tiny sunbirds, brilliant as gems, flutter around and even settle on their heads in their haste to get at the feeder filled with honey-sweetened water.
Watch the eyes of an apartment dweller when a genet pair or a porcupine family arrive on the lamplit stoep, sample the offerings and go their way without a sidelong glance at us.
All of this gives unequalled opportunity to study much of the behaviour and great detail of the appearance of these creatures that otherwise would be unattainable.
Above all, it teaches us and our friends and visitors to respect and admire our wildlife. That makes it worthwhile.
Feeding dassies began a process which continues to this day. We have achieved a kind of non-aggression treaty: when we spot them inside the fence they run like rockets; when they see us outside the fence they come running for food. They keep chancing it in the garden at the risk of getting thoroughly soaked by my wife, Doreen wielding a hose jet.
We began the feeding experimentally by depositing a bucketful of discarded lettuce and cabbage leaves, carrot, potato, pineapple and avocado peels, and other kitchen odds and sods which otherwise would have gone on the compost heap. We would examine the leftovers to check their preferences.
There was no need. They gulped the lot.
After scattering the offering on grass between house and sea next to a dense thicket of canary creeper my wife beat on the bottom of the bucket to arouse the dassies’ interest and we retreated to watch.
They were tentative at first. Curiousity slowly overcame caution and they approached warily, emerging from tunnels in the canary creeper and peeping around corners. As they came closer to the somewhat noisome pile of rubbish the smell reached them and they threw caution to the winds. They charged. In moments the food was hidden by chubby brown bodies all chewing like manic machines, almost inhaling it.
Mostly they concentrated on eating but sometimes this led to conflict. Two dassies would start chewing from the opposite ends of the same piece of banana peel. As they came rapidly to the middle, each trying to out-swallow the other, it became an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.
The actual fight was almost always brief and harmless at blinding speed. Swift jerks of the two heads and a snapping of jaws equipped with sharp incisors. It rarely lasted more than seconds before they used a tactic that if humanity adopted it might lead mankind to non-lethal wars. The dassie getting the worst of it would turn its fat backside to the other, presenting an unattractive and somewhat pointless target. When the attacker turned away, thinking victory was his, the defender would spin around to bite and get the same treatment – a large bum in the face. It always ended with the contestants standing bum to bum.