Why we all love the African Meerkat
Who doesn't love a Meerkat? It’s difficult to argue against them being the most endearing of all animals in the African bush. One can become excited when witnessing this member of the mongoose family occupying themselves in their endless pursuit of food, scurrying around, furiously scratching at the ground with their long, curved claws in hopes of finding millipedes, scorpions as well as other delicacies. Yes, they can be quite ferocious in their attack on these grubs. They are also famous for standing on their hind legs, scanning for danger; perpetually active, chattering amongst themselves.
We even love them when they’re lazing around the sanctuary of their den, cuddling together or grooming themselves, while one Meerkat is on sentry duty, seeking a standpoint to keep watch for danger.
Perhaps we are drawn to them because of their human-like instinct to look out for each other? Or maybe it’s because there is always something going on, some behaviour to watch and learn about. Undeniably, they are adorable, which makes them irresistible to children (and the child in all of us), who’d undoubtedly much rather spend time observing a family of Meerkats than a pride of lions sleeping in the shade most of the day.
Did you say Meerkat or Mongoose?
The Meerkat is one of 14 species of Mongoose and is predominantly located in southern Africa’s Kalahari region, where they have been researched for many years. They have proven to be particularly tame around humans, which has meant that in some areas, they are ambivalent about the presence of tourists, carrying out their daily activities uninhibited. Indeed, people have their uses: they supply added height for an effective lookout which is easy to clamber up and perch on a head or shoulder.
This makes meerkats surprisingly easy to interact with and to study. At some of the dens, where the animals are accustomed to the presence of humans, it is possible to quietly sit near the den while the creatures walk around and even on you. One can observe them as they venture to and from the den, bask in the glory of the early morning sunlight, keep a lookout and search for food. This way one can find out how the family dynamics work, feed those unable to hunt for themselves, how they take care of each other’s babies, always keep an eye on each other and how they huddle together for companionship.
Watch them long enough, and you’ll be able to recognise individuals. Given that meerkats look incredibly similar, it is through assessing their size and watching their behaviour compared to others that you start to identify each character.
The Meerkat experience
To see meerkats in their natural habitat, so close they can climb on you, is a thrilling and marvellous privilege. The delight is mainly so in children (and that child in you); the expression of utter joy when a meerkat climbs on their heads is unforgettable. For visitors of all ages, it is primarily described as their favourite and most compelling safari experience: unique, entertaining, fascinating, – and intimate.