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African Safari blog

The Complex Societies of the Gregarious Meerkats

African Wildlife

While there are many meat-eating mammals that live and hunt in family-based units, few of them take communal living as seriously as the meerkat.

On our recent visit to Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana, we took a series of snaps of these cooperative, rather tame little creatures.

meerkat botswana africa

foraging meerkats botswana africa

Meerkat Societies

The meerkat is the most social of all members of the mongoose family. Each meerkat society comprises a close-knit colony of up to 40 individuals. The group works as a complex team, with each member having special duties to benefit the whole.

Indeed, teamwork and cooperation are the secrets of survival in the hostile environment of Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert, which extends for some 900,000 square kilometres and covers much of Botswana, parts of Namibia and regions of South Africa.

Walking with Meerkats at Jacks Camp

We were privileged enough to walk with meerkats, just one of the activities at Jacks Camp, Botswana.

We arose very early, before the meerkats emerged from their burrows. They came out at first light to warm themselves in the morning sun and immediately a sentry was posted to keep watch for predators. 

We watched and waited until the look-out ensured the coast was clear. Then two, three and many more meerkats emerged; scampering around to forage for scorpions, spiders, snails, lizards and other morsels.

The meerkats we spent time with were semi-habituated (unafraid of people). They playfully sat on our shoulders, laps and even our heads, to glean a better view of the surrounding area and keep an always vigilant eye out for eagles wheeling menacingly in the skies, or Bat Eared Foxes, snakes and other predators.

Hillary-in-Botwana-Africa-with-meerkats
Do you like my (meerk)hat?

Meerkats are obsessive foragers with a keen sense of smell, raising dust storms in their wake as they claw their way through the sandy soil in search of the prey they scent.

In ordinary circumstances, the meerkat look-out will stand on a high point, and bark out warning at the first sign of danger.

meerkat standing look out Kalahari Makgadikgadi Pans botswana africa

Learning from Elders

We watched the meerkats scratch the ground to find insects. They then taught the little ones what to do by ingeniously placing an insect right where their babies were scratching.

african man sitting with meerkats in botswana africa

At Jacks Camp there is a person employed to stay all day with the meerkats in order to keep them safe. This person is also tasked with watching which burrows they use at night (they vary) so that guests can watch these fascinating little creatures in the morning.

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If we’ve whet your appetite for an African adventure, even just a little bit, we invite you to find out more about planning a trip with your partner or your family and/or a group of friends.

Contact us to talk about an itinerary suited to you, or to view some samples.

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