Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Dassie on Table Mountain

I'm in the middle of my Africa tour with the Torah-in-Motion group, and we've been fortunate to see lions, kudu, sable, monkeys, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, and a herd of elephants swimming across the Chobe river in front of our boat. We've also had some interesting interactions with animals - here's a photo from one of them:

But one of the species that I was most anxious see was the hyrax. Of course, I have seen wild hyraxes in Israel on countless occasions, but I was curious to see it in a different country.

Everyone here says that Table Mountain in Capetown is the place to see them. Its rocky nature is perfect for the shelter-seeking hyrax. Unfortunately, on the three previous occasions that I have visited Table Mountain, it had been closed due to bad weather. Fortunately, on Friday, the skies were gloriously clear, and we were able to take the revolving cable-car up the spectacular mountain.

At the top, my group was planning to take a leisurely stroll around a small area. But I wanted to maximize my chances of seeing a hyrax, so I went charging off to cover as much ground as possible. After half an hour, I still hadn't seen any hyraxes, and I was rather disappointed as I rejoined my group by the cable car.

"Did you see the hyrax?" they all asked. "It was right near us!"

Serves me right for leaving them, I thought. So I went to where they had seen it, and after a few minutes, there it was! It was spectacularly posed on the side of the mountain, with the entire bay area behind it:

While I couldn't see any differences between the hyrax in South Africa and the hyrax in Israel, there is a difference in their names. Here in South Africa, hyraxes are called dassies. While nobody could tell me the source of this name, I think that I have managed to figure it out.

In many English translations of Tanach, you will see shafan rendered as "rock badger." This reflects the appearance of the hyrax as a badger-like animal, and its constant connection to rocky habitat (unlike the rabbit!). But "rock badger" is in fact an English translation for the German name for the hyrax, klipdachsKlippe means "rock" and dachs refers to a badger - think of the dachshund, which is a dog (hund) bred for hunting badgers. So the name "dassie" is presumably a variant on dachs.

Anyway, I was very pleased to have seen the dassie. It meant that I didn't have to implement my back-up plan for showing a photo of a hyrax on Table Mountain:


  1. Maybe the South African name is an Artscroll transliteration of Dati. ;-)

    After all, religious people sometimes look for hyraxes, as Natan did here!

    Catriel Lev, RBS-Alef

  2. Afrikaans is a daughter-language of Dutch, and Dassie comes from the Dutch 'das', meaning ‘badger’, with 'dasje', as the Dutch diminutive of 'das'. Given that Dutch belongs to the family of West Germanic languages, 'das' is related to the German 'Dachs', so you're suggestion is not it to far off. From Mr. Google


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