'Save the dassie toilet'

Cape Town - Dassie "toilets" should be treasured, warns a group of academics opposed to the trade in dassie urine, which is used in the production of medicine and even perfume.

Prof Louis Scott of Free State University’s department of plant sciences, as well as local researchers like Lynne Quick, are warning that the "harvest" of dassie dung heaps could rob humankind of invaluable information regarding, among other things, climate change.

According to researchers, some of these dung heaps are over 40 000 years old and can be as tall as 70cm or more.
 
"The dung heaps are built up over years. It's almost like looking into a time capsule," explained Scott.

"It gives you a record of the climate and the vegetation, since it's basically a soup made of remnants from that time period."

Hyraceum, or fossilised dassie excrement, is used for the traditional treatment of epilepsy according to the November/December edition of the South African Journal of Science.

But also for the "bloody perfume", an upset Scott related on Sunday.

Vegetation history

Scott is part of a pressure group which was established after reports about, amongst other things, the financial possibilities of trading in dassie urine.

According to Quick, pollen from various plants is captured in the dung heaps over centuries, which provides a glimpse of the area's vegetation history and how that has changed.

Quick was awarded a Master's degree from the University of Cape Town for her research regarding dung heaps left behind by generations of dassies (Procavia capensis) in the Cederberg.

The heaps usually consist of hair, excrement, dust, pollen and the dassie's characteristic highly concentrated urine.

Dassie dung heaps are especially useful for providing this information since the animals have a habit of using the same ablutions from one generation to the next.

Quick says that, although she isn't aware of any "harvesting" of dassie urine in the Cederberg, she supports awareness surrounding the "dangers" this practice holds from a conservation perspective.
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