A favorite here at the African Safari Consultants office, the meerkat has become synonymous with the lighter side of African wildlife. These small mammals – who are members of the mongoose family – delight with their comical antics, playful nature and undeniable ‘cuteness’. Native to Southern Africa, and occurring predominantly in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, meerkats are famous for their signature ‘up on two legs’ pose – which they adopt to survey their territory for food, danger, or activities. Let’s find out a little more about them shall we…
Meerkats are sociable creatures and stay together in groups of about 20, which are most frequently called ‘clans’. Almost cat-like in appearance, meerkats have no relation to our furry feline friends – although they do enjoy nibbling on the odd mouse. Speaking of nibbling, they’re most fond of lizards, snakes (many of whom’s venom they are immune to), spiders, insects and plants. Classified as insectivores, meerkats will eat most anything they can get their paws on – when you live in the desert, being fussy doesn’t get you very far! Meerkats live in burrows which they dig using non-retractable claws on their forelegs, and they’re never too far from them for long. Keeping the clan safe is a shared responsibility, so meerkats make use of a rotational sentry system to warn of any impending danger. They also assign babysitting duties to a clan female, who is tasked with tending to the young ones whilst the rest of the clan forages.
Children are especially fond of meerkats – perhaps due to the popularity of the ‘Timon’ character in The Lion King – and are fascinated by their appearance and behavior. With that in mind, if you’re travelling with children, why not stay somewhere that offers meerkat interaction? Your children will love you for it! Jack’s Camp and San Camp, both in Botswana, have established meerkat interaction facilities whereby your kids can safely interact with the animals in a non-invasive manner. There’s no better way to learn about the beauty of wildlife, and the need to conserve it, than through spending time with the animals in their natural environment.
With their aforementioned predisposition for mischief, and their adorable appearance, it’s no surprise that meerkats star in several well-known documentaries. Film crews have been able to get up close and personal with the animals after building up a level of trust, and it’s incredibly heartening to see how well we’re capable of interacting with our environment without negatively impacting upon it. We’ll leave you with one of our favorite clips from the incredible BBC Documentary series, Planet Earth.