Remarkably, given their size and appearance, the rock dassie’s closest relation is the elephant. These small diurnal mammals live on rocky hills and outcrops where they depend upon natural cavities for shelter and protection from predators such as Veraux’s eagles, caracals and leopards.
The rock dassie has two upper incisor teeth which, like the elephants, grow for life. In males these are triangular (females are rounded) and very sharp.
To avoid predators and save energy rock dassies only feed, move around and interact for 5% of the day, the rest of the time they do nothing.
During the night rock dassies will lie on top of each other to keep warm. This behaviour is called “heaping”.
Rock dassies have a glandular spot on their backs which is covered by longer hair than elsewhere. In times of excitement the hair is raised and the gland opens.
Rock dassies only eat for 1 hour of the day, this is all the time they need because each bite of food that they take is the same size as a bite that a sheep would take.
The soles of a rock dassie’s feet are soft and rubbery, they are kept moist by glandular tissue which assists them with their grip as they move around the smooth rocks.
The rock dassie has modified eyes which allow it to look directly into the sun whilst it keeps watch for its chief predator, the Veraux’s eagle. This shield like adaptation is called an “unbraculum”.
There is fossil evidence that the rock dassie is closely related to elephants, the similarities which they share today include: a protracted gestation period, tusk like incisors and their foot structure.