They’re lightning fast, incredibly inquisitive and super adorable. We simply cannot get enough of the Kgalagadi’s quirky meerkats. But how much do you know about these cute critters? By Arnold Ras, pictures by Billy Steenkamp
I did some digging – no pun intended – and discovered some fascinating meerkat facts. Next time you’re visiting the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, you’ll appreciate these opportunistic rascals even more.
Meerkats, or suricates (Suricata suricatta), found in the north-west of South Africa are paler in colour than those in the south.
They belong to the Herpestidae family, the largest family of carnivores in the subregion. While meerkats mainly eat insects and other invertebrates (think scorpions), their diverse diet also includes adult bullfrogs.
Video by Howard William Markham
A bath a day keeps the doctor away! At first light, they sunbath for up to 30 minutes before any activities commence. And during summer months, midday siestas are a common occurrence. What a life!
In the meerkat world you have to think twice before splitting from the band. When entering a new group, a meerkat becomes a subordinate immigrant… These poor dudes are welcomed into their new posse with extra babysitting duties. Babysitters may watch pups for successive days and they also go hungry while on duty. Shame.
Speaking of hierarchy… A subordinate meerkat wanting to greet a dominant member of the group should creep when approaching. Belly to the ground, brother!
They are impressive sentries… Often seen scrutinising their surrounds from high vantage points, ever so alert and bolt upright, meerkats have specific alarm calls. Continuous peeping means all’s clear, rasping barks that a raptor is present, and hoots that ground predators are nearby.
Sharing is caring… It’s quite common for meerkats to share their burrows with male ground squirrels. This is of course co-habiting at its best as more eyes mean better security and less danger for all.
A group of meerkats share the same smell and regular contact is important to maintain familiarity. But exactly how do they scent-mark each other? A meerkat’s anal glands do the trick.
Overtly territorial, groups fiercely defend occupied areas of 2 to 5km². Teamwork is everything. When a battle over territory ensues, meerkats readily contest invaders with a co-ordinated, single combat strategy.
Caring for the dominant female’s pup is a group affair. So much so that subordinate adult females lactate so that they can help feed the offspring. That’s taking teamwork to a whole new level.
Top spots to see them
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park
- Addo Elephant National Park
- Karoo National Park
- Kruger National Park
Sources: Smither’s Mammals of South Africa. A Field Guide. Revised and updated by Peter Apps; Wild Ways. Peter Apps.