Kirky the dinosaur
Did you know?
Kirky – like ostriches – swallowed small pebbles (called gastroliths) to grind food in his stomach.
When visiting the Iziko South African Museum near the Company’s Garden in central Cape Town, you should walk up one floor and view the incredible suspended southern right whale skeleton from above.
Once you’ve recovered from that mega-sighting, stroll slowly past the quaggas, lemurs and ancient birds and into the dinosaur hall, where you'll find a permanent exhibition called Stone Bones of the Ancient Karoo.
Here you will find awesome lizards that strode the Earth many millions of years ago.
And just as you’re passing the reconstructed jaws of a giant crocodile, look right and you’ll spot a purple, turkey-sized fellow with sleek lines for fast running, a slight, enigmatic smile on his face, and eyelashes to die for.
Meet Kirky, arguably the cutest dinosaur South Africa has ever dished up to fossil finders.
Kirky the dinosaur lived approximately 135-million years ago, when the world was a vastly different place. The continents were far from their present-day locations. The giant southern continent, Gondwana, had just broken up and the giant land masses of the Southern Hemisphere as we know it today, including South America, Africa, Arabia, India, Antarctica, Australia, and New Zealand, had slowly started their journeys to their current positions.
Kirky ate meat, which is unusual, as most dinosaurs that have been discovered in South Africa were herbivores.
His remains were excavated just outside the Eastern Cape village of Kirkwood in 1996 as part of a joint project between the Albany Museum in Grahamstown and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Dr Callum Ross of Stony Brook and Dr Billy de Klerk of the Albany Museum found bones lying scattered on a slope and embedded in the exposed bedrock.
The bones were carefully excavated, and during the cleaning process De Klerk took the bedrock to a Port Elizabeth hospital to be X-rayed and CT-scanned to see what bones were embedded therein.
De Klerk booked an appointment at the hospital for a CT scan under the name of ‘Mr Dinosaur’.
While 'Kirky' might work as a nifty nickname, he needed a scientific moniker as well. So he became the first dinosaur ever to bear an official isiXhosa name: Nqwebasaurus thwazi, which means ‘fast-running messenger lizard from the Nqweba district’.
The way to pronounce Kirky’s real name is 'n-KWE-bah-SAWR-us TWAH-zee'. When you say the ‘n-KWE’ part, you should pull your tongue off the roof of your mouth to produce a click on the ‘q’ sound.
PS: We’re not sure about those eyelashes on Kirky the dinosaur. The head of the skeleton was never fully recovered, so that part may have been a bit of poetic licence.
PPS: The South African Museum forms part of a group of national museums in the Western Cape province called the Iziko Museums. The Iziko Museums include the South African National Gallery and the Bo-Kaap Museum, among others.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)21 481 3800
Albany Museum complex, Grahamstown
Tel: +27 (0)46 622 2312
How to get here
The South African Museum where Kirky is displayed is right next to the Company’s Garden in central Cape Town. The address is 25 Queen Victoria Street, Gardens, Cape Town.
Best time to visit
The museum is a year-round destination.
Around the area
There are more than a dozen Iziko museums in the city, including the Bo-Kaap Museum, the Planetarium, the Slave Lodge and the South African National Gallery (a short walk from the South African Museum). Explore as many as you can – they tell the story of South Africa.
Take a train, bus or taxi from your accommodation to central Cape Town. From there, everything is within walking distance.
What will it cost
Entry fee to the South African Museum: Adults R20, students and pensioners R10, under-18s free.
Length of stay
The South African Museum, part of the Iziko Museums complex, is worth a half-day visit.
What to pack
Take a bag to carry brochures and gifts – you might find yourself carrying info material or objects purchased from the gift shop.
Where to stay
There is loads of accommodation to suit any budget and taste in Cape Town.
What to eat
Central Cape Town is teeming with good restaurants – have a gastronomic adventure.
A memento from the gift shop at the South African Museum.