The Cape of Good Hope SPCA has seen an increase in the number of calls from people returning home from holiday to find an extra traveller who has come along for the drive. Dassies, more formally known as rock hyrax, are secretly hitching rides with holidaymakers.
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The SPCA says that it responds to about three calls a month from holiday-goers arriving home to find a dassie darting from underneath their vehicles or getting an unpleasant odour from beneath their car bonnets, where the dassie would have relieved itself.
In the latest incident of hitchhiking dassies, a family in Ottery returned home from a holiday to find four dassies hiding in their vehicle’s engine compartment.
So why are dassies hitching rides in our cars?
SPCA Wildlife Officer, Jon Friedman explains, “Dassies are cave dwellers; they are attracted to dark, cavernous spaces that offer them safety and good cover from predators (such as birds of prey, snakes and caracals.) Add in warmth, easy access and a labyrinth of pipes, wires and bulky engine parts to hide behind and your car’s motor bay is a very attractive option for a dassie. Until you start driving…”.
“Dassies are also extremely territorial creatures.”
“They live in communal colonies comprising several families ruled over by a dominant male and his harem of females and their kids. Young dassies engage in games of chase which may see the game spilling out of the colony and into your car’s engine bay. Older dassies may be chased out of the colony by a dominant member, your car’s chassis providing a convenient safe space in which to hide,” adds Friedman.
The SPCA warns that if you do encounter a dassie in your vehicle, do not attempt to remove it; dassies are known to bite if they feel threatened. Instead, try to lure it out with a treat of peanut butter or a carrot. Try to safely trap the dassie in a box once it has moved from the vehicle.
Once you realise that you have a dassie hiding in your vehicle, do not drive the vehicle until you are certain that the animal has made its exit, as a running engine poses multiple dangers to the hiding dassie. The SPCA suggests spraying water in the area where the dassie is hiding to coerce it from the vehicle.
Once you have safely caught the dassie, call your local SPCA branch and ask them to pick up the animal. Don’t let it go until it’s back where it got in your car.
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