One of my current works in progress is a middle grade animal adventure trilogy for 8-11 year-olds concerning the exploits of a band of rock dassies and their journeys in the unknown ‘World Far, Far Below’. Although the books are set in an imaginary world, they are inspired by the dassies who live on Table Mountain in South Africa.
Rock dassies are small, browny-grey mammals, approximately 50cm long, found in Africa and the Middle East. They live for about ten years and are also known as rock hyrax. They have long, dark whiskers, sticky-out ears and no tail and are similar-looking to a big guinea pig. However, unlike guinea pigs, they’re not rodents. Their nearest relative is the elephant and dassies have two tusk-like upper teeth, one on either side of their mouth. They feed on grasses and shrubs and are able to eat spicy plants that are poisonous to other animals. When, in turn, they are preyed upon by eagles, dassies use squeaks as a warning system and hide amongst rocks. They also have special moist pads on the soles of their feet which help them to climb steep slopes. This is handy because they live on rocky outcrops, in colonies, where they enjoy basking in the sun and not venturing far.