Although South Africa is best known for the Big Five – Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Cheetah and Rhinoceros – my attention has always been drawn to the little rodent catcher with it’s brown-orange and black coat, little sharp nosed face and intelligent little black eyes, not to mention those deceptively powerful little paws!
My first encounter with a Meerkat, translated into English they are March Cats, was in prep school where a teacher had Mr Scruffy as a pet! This medium sized Meerkat had been hand reared and lived to the ripe old age of 15years. Ever since I had the chance to carry Mr Scruffy around the playground, I have loved these little creatures and look out for them when on safari drives.
In the wild, a Meerkat, which falls under the mongoose family, can live up to the age of 10 years in their various burrows, which consists of an intricate maze of underground tunnels, entrance holes and sleeping chambers. An adult Meerkat stands 12 inches high (30 centimeters), but is only 6 inches (15 centimeters) high when on all fours.
These extremely social animals live in groups of two and three families ranging up to 40 in one group. Each group appoints their own Alpha male and Alpha female with sole breeding rights, while the rest of the group members take on different responsibilities such as foraging, standing sentry to look out for predators or babysitting the young. They act as a close-knit family, assisting one another and supporting the group when and where required.
There are many different lessons to be learned from the animal kingdom, but to me these little guys have mastered the core lesson out of all of them – looking after those who are most important to you by working together as a family would, but most important of all, be cute and quick and shrewd and you won’t get caught!
The next time you plan your luxury safari trip, be sure to include a stop that incorporates a section of the Karoo, which stretches across South Africa,Namibia, Angola, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and is home to these magnificent little animals.
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