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Das Verkyker – the Dassie with wonderful eyes

 Renke Rommerskirchen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]


Hello, my name is Das Verkyker and I am a Dassie.  I’m sure you’ve seen me and my family around.  Wherever there are rocky places with ledges and little caves, you will find us. Some of us live on Table Mountain and we have great fun entertaining the tourists, some of us live down near the sea near Cape Point and I live with my family in a kloof in the Swartberg Mountains. 

You humans seem to rush around exercising, wanting to be thin, but not us! We take life easy, we eat and sleep and eat and sleep some more, so we are comfortable creatures with silky coats and bright, sparkling eyes, fat little bottoms and lovely round tummies.

I bet you didn’t know that we are related to the biggest animal in Africa – that’s right, our cousin is the Elephant.  Millions of years ago we had the same great, great, great, I can’t quite count how many greats, Grandma Paenungupata.

Now our great, great, great, I can’t quite count how many greats, Grandma had three wonderful gifts: she could see as far as the furthest horizon, she had very good hearing and she had a wonderful sense of smell. Very useful skills for finding food and staying out of danger.

Over millions of years elephants became large, grey, creatures with great ears and long trunks who roam the grasslands in big families and we became small round, brown, furry creatures with long teeth who live in equally big families in rocky places. And great, great, great, I can’t quite count how many greats, Grandma gave each of us special gifts.

Our elephant cousins received Grandma’s amazing sense of smell and we dassies have very good hearing and very good eyesight. And boy, oh boy, has that been useful, especially for our family, living in the Swartberg Mountains.

I’ll tell you why …

Steve Garvie from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]We dassies are well rounded, we really enjoy the leaves and twigs and fruit that we eat. We live in what you humans call a colony, we like living together under the rocks and in caves but sometimes it does get a bit cold, so we lie in the sun. You know how delightful it is to laze and doze in the sunshine. There’s just one problem.


Verreaux's eagles! 


Have you ever seen a great, black eagle? There are lots of them in the Swartberg Mountains. And they have one very bad habit from a dassie’s point of view,  they like to eat us. Can you imagine anyone wanting to eat a dear, fat little dassie? Well, I’m afraid that they do, and they have a big advantage over us: they can fly.

Eagles fly high in the sky, so high that we dassies are tiny specks far below, BUT it takes them just THREE SECONDS from the time they see us, to the time they can dive to pick us up and eat us for dinner. That means we have THREE SECONDS to hide! 

Three seconds go by very quickly. Do you know how quickly?  Let me show you… let’s count one-two-three, with a clap in between: 

ONE  CLAP  TWO  CLAP  THREE  CLAP – that’s three seconds.

That’s all the time we have.  So we never go very far from somewhere to hide. It might be the cave where we spend the night, or a handy bush or a rocky overhang. We keep close to our own little spot, just in case, and we set a sentry to watch the skies.

That’s where I come in – I am a watcher – a sentry. One of the chosen few. While my friends and relations eat their fill, or laze in the sun after a good dinner, I watch the skies.

My eyes have a special light shield to protect me from the rays of the sun, for you all know that no-one can look at the sun without hurting their eyes. As soon as an eagle appears in the sky I spring to attention. I watch his every move and when he starts to dive I sound my special SQUEAK and then there’s ONE  CLAP  TWO  CLAP  THREE  CLAP seconds to hide away.

Well, you should see the commotion, mums and dads and aunties and uncles rushing for cover, shooing the little ones ahead of them. Once they are under the rocks most of them turn on their tails to see the eagle swoop past, no dassie for dinner today, we’re safe in our shelter. 

There’s lots of squeaking and nuzzling and licking and sighs of relief and a few dassies scurry over to give me a nudge of thanks. 

So now you understand how I got my name,  why I am called Das Verkyker, the ever vigilant, bright and alert, far-seeing dassie of the Swartberg Mountains.


A story by Ailsa Tudhope – The Story Weaver. 

Photo credits

Dassie:Renke Rommerskirchen 

Verreaux's Eagle: Steve Garvie from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland