In 2011 I was fortunate to be able to spend two weeks in the South African section of the Kalahari transformational park between Namibia and Botswana. One of the most fascinating animals found in that desert region is the Meerkat or Suricate. This small member of the mongoose family can only be found in South-Western Africa’s semi-desert scrub areas where they build burrows and forage for insects, small animals, snakes and scorpions. Meerkats are immune to the venom of the scorpions and can tolerate six times the venom from a snake bite compared to an animal of similar size like a rabbit. In addition to the above Meerkats will eat tubers and roots to gain the moisture they need to live in this arid environment. The dark patches around their eyes help protect their eyes from the harsh glare and an extra eye lid protects the eyes from sand. Meerkats differ from other members of the mongoose family in a number of ways, but mainly in their social interaction with one another. They live in very organized communities of 10 to 30 individuals known as gangs, and rely on one another for survival. There are usually 3-4 family units, male, female and offspring in a community. They emerge from their burrows to sunbathe in the morning sun before the majority of the gang begins their day of foraging for food, while others stay at the burrow to mind the young. The sentry is often seem standing upright on a low bush peering into the distance looking for predators. If a predator is spotted they will sound an alert to the remainder of the group who will quickly head for underground. Because of their small size Meerkats are prey to many larger animals. Their biggest threat are Birds of Prey such as eagles and hawks that hunt from the air and can spot these tiny creatures on the ground and swoop in for a meal. That is why you will always see some one on guard looking out for potential danger from above and on the ground. While we were in the Kalahari we saw Meerkats several times mostly too far away to photograph, but towards the end of our trip we came across a burrow that was fairy close to the road. It was mid afternoon and most of the inhabitants were probably out foraging for food. We saw a couple of sentries keeping watch and several babies popping in and out of view under one of sentries bush. They are very comical to watch as they play with one another. In fact, watching Meerkats interact is a fascinating experience so much so that the BBC created a whole television series about these little guys called Meerkat Manor.
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