Rock Badgers—Lovable and Instinctively Wise
By Awake! correspondent in South Africa
WHAT creatures does the Bible call “instinctively wise . . . not mighty, and yet upon a crag is where they put their house”? These remarkable little fellows, about the size of a rabbit, are called conies, marmots, or rock badgers in different translations of the Bible.—Proverbs 30:24-26.
The rock badger is a hyrax, found only in parts of Africa and extreme southwestern Asia. In southern Africa, where he is found in great numbers, he is known as rock dassie, a name derived from the Dutch word for “badger.”
Although dassies look somewhat like rodents, they have certain features that are actually “a mixture of everything,” according to scientist Gerrie de Graaff. “Their incisors resemble those of rodents, their molars those of rhinos, their vascular system that of whales and their feet those of elephants!” No wonder they have the zoologists puzzled!
As they are not very fast-moving animals, nor able to defend themselves very well, dassies wisely live in the crags and crevices of rocky outcrops or cliffs. These provide shelter from wind and rain, as well as protection from predators. Understandably, then, they seldom venture far afield except for their two main meals a day.
And what meals! For such small creatures, they eat an astonishing amount of plant material. Even more astonishing is the speed with which it is all gobbled up. Why, they spend less than an hour a day at it! And their digestive system, which copes marvelously with this habit, is described by zoologist J. J. C. Sauer as being “unique in the animal kingdom.”
No Easy Meal
A common sight in rocky areas is dassies, looking very much like rocks themselves, basking in the brilliant African sunshine. Very tempting that is for the black eagle, who has a special fondness for dassies. But the little fellow is not so easily taken. His eyesight is so keen that he can detect movement more than half a mile [a kilometer] away! And even if the eagle is right against the sun, the dassie will spot him. How is that possible? His eyes are equipped with a special membrane that filters the sun’s rays, enabling him to look directly into the sun without harm. No sooner is the enemy spotted than the alarm is given—a sharp bark by the sentry dassie—and immediately the rocks are cleared, all dassies having dropped down into the crevices between and under the rocks. The eagle will have to try again for his meal.
Community living—what an advantage it is at night when dassies feel the cold! It is so helpful to have fellow dassies to lie with, pressed tightly together, all facing outward. Some may even pile on top of the huddled group until there are three or four layers of dassies—up to 25 at a time—sharing warmth with one another!
It could have its drawbacks, though, as they are aggressive little animals. But their instinctive wisdom comes to the rescue. Dr. P. B. Fourie explains: “They normally lie with their heads away from one another, do not feed in close proximity to one another and utter a variety of appeasement calls when they are forced to move closely past one another.” And because their calls are usually low-pitched and can be heard only a few yards [meters] away, they can communicate with one another without attracting predators.
Agile and Lovable Pets
Many an observer has marveled at the way dassies can dash up a smooth rock-face that is almost perpendicular. How do they do it? By forming their feet, which have thick, soft soles, into friction pads. And because their feet are always damp, being the only parts of their bodies that perspire, the traction is that much stronger.
These endearing creatures are easily tamed. And there is no need to worry about their cleanliness—they constantly groom themselves with a hind foot, which has a handy little claw specially for that purpose. In her book Born Free, Joy Adamson confesses to being puzzled at first that her pet dassie habitually scratched herself. Later she realized that with this claw, the dassie kept her fur sleek, so that neither flea nor tick was ever found on her.
How would one go about housebreaking a pet dassie? No need to. In the wild, they set aside a specific location to be used as a toilet by the whole colony. So as pets, dassies “spontaneously learn to use the toilet,” explains Fourie. “Without flushing it, of course!” he adds. And so it was with Joy Adamson’s dassie. “Her excretory habits were peculiar . . . At home Pati invariably perched herself on the rim of the lavatory seat, and thus situated presented a comical sight. On safari where no such refinements were provided for her, she was completely bewildered, so we had eventually to rig up a small lavatory for her.”
How delightful it will be in time to become fully acquainted with these and other creatures that Jehovah has made “instinctively wise”!