The outsized fluffy guinea pigs you’ll encounter at the top of Table Mountain are dassies or hyraxes (Procavia capensis), which, despite their appearance, aren’t rodents at all, but the closest living relatives of elephants. Their name (pronounced like “dusty” without the “t”) is the Afrikaans version of dasje, meaning “little badger”, a name given to them by the first Dutch settlers. Dassies are very widely distributed, having thrived in South Africa with the elimination of predators, and can be found in suitably rocky habitats all over the country. They live in colonies consisting of a dominant male and eight or more related females and their offspring.
Dassies have poor body temperature control and, like reptiles, rely on shelter against both hot sunlight and the cold. They wake up sluggish and seek out rocks where they can catch the early morning sun – this is one of the best times to look out for them. One adult stands sentry against predators and issues a low-pitched warning cry in response to a threat.