We were sitting outdoors one idyllic spring evening, idly sipping sundowners and watching False Bay waves crash whitely on the rocks, when two youngsters appeared on the grass below us, chasing each other at high speed. They hurtled around and around a crassula bush, the pursued stopping suddenly to ambush the pursuer and reverse the chase, as kids do all over the world. A few circuits later they reversed again with an abundance of energy that made us feel ancient.
The game changed abruptly when the chasee stopped dead and the chaser shot up and nipped him the backside.
Then it became a frantic race all over the lawn with harmless ducking and diving when one caught the other. They were still having fun when their mothers arrived, glared at us, each other and their offspring and called them off.
But these were no ordinary kids. One was a mongoose and the other a dassie – two creatures so different their lifestyles have absolutely nothing in common. The kind of contact we watched probably occurs more often than we realise, between animals so young they have not yet learned to distinguish between their kind and others or the prejudices that come with that knowledge. For each of them the other was no more than a playmate.
It makes one wonder whether humans of different ethnic origins might not be more compatible if the prejudices of their adults were not drummed into them.
It’s simply not possible among animals. “The lion shall lie down with the lamb” is wishful thinking, unless the lion is about to have lunch. Strange liaisons sometimes do exist: a parrot and an Alsatian, dog and rabbit, horse and duck. They last probably because there is no competition for food and they are influenced by their human owners.
Both the mongoose and the dassie at play were six to eight weeks old, no longer babies but not quite “teenagers”. The adults of the two species often appear at the same time in the evenings but walk on opposite sides of the street, so to speak, keeping a polite distance apart. The mongeese (forget the etymologists) appear to look down their sharp noses at the dassie hoi polloi guzzling greenery – they, of course, being carnivores: hunters, killers, lovers of fresh (and not so fresh) meat of any kind from beetle to bird to mouse.
Which mongeese are usually doing. They are ruthless hunters and take anything in their path small enough to cope with, up to and including birds up to pigeon size and lizards and will, in true mongoose tradition, tackle quite sizeable snakes, which they eat from the head down. Rats, though, are off the menu: big, tough and ferocious, and with much larger teeth.