Be a sentry post while studying meerkats in the Kalahari
Everybody loves a meerkat, right? It’s hard to argue against them being the most endearing of all animals in the African bush. Who hasn’t got excited when spotting these mongooses busying themselves in their endless pursuit of food… scurrying around, scratching furiously at the ground with their long, curved claws in search of scorpions, millepedes and other delicacies; standing on hind legs like a periscope scanning for danger; perpetually active, jabbering amongst themselves.
Even when relaxing around the sanctuary of the den, grooming themselves or snuggling together, with at least one meerkat on sentry duty, seeking a vantage point to keep watch for danger.
Perhaps it is their human-like instinct to look after each other that we are drawn to? Or that there is always something going on, some behaviour to watch and learn about. Undeniably, they are cute. Which makes them particularly irresistible to children, who’d clearly much rather spend time watching a family of meerkats than lions sleeping in the shade.
The meerkat is one of 14 species of mongoose, and is found in southern Africa’s Kalahari region, where they have been studied for many years. They have proven particularly comfortable around humans, which has meant that in some areas they are ambivalent about the presence of visitors, carrying out their activities uninhibited. Indeed, people have their uses: they provide added height for a more effective lookout, and are easy to clamber up and perch on a head or shoulder.
This makes meerkats remarkably easy to engage with and to study. At certain dens, where the animals are habituated to the presence of humans, it is possible to sit quietly by the den while the creatures bustle around you. You can watch as they come and go from the den, bask in the early morning sun, forage for food and keep watch. You can learn how the family dynamic works, how they look after each other’s babies, feed those unable to hunt themselves, how they huddle together for companionship, and constantly keep an eye on each other.
Watch them long enough and you’ll be able to identify individuals. Given that meerkats look remarkably similar, it is through watching their behaviour and assessing their size compared to others that you start to recognise each character.
To see meerkats in their natural environment like this, so close they even climb on you, is an extraordinary and thrilling privilege. The delight is particularly evident in children; the expression of utter joy when a meerkat climbs on their heads is unforgettable. For visitors of all ages, it is often described as their favourite and most compelling safari experience: intimate, fascinating, entertaining – and unique.
A visit to the meerkats is offered to guests of Natural Selection’s Camp Kalahari, Jack’s Camp and San Camp. For more information see www.naturalselection.travel