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Family standing on home

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Meerkats are a type of Mongoose. The name Meerkat comes from the Afrikaans (Dutch population of South Africa). The English translation is marsh cat, although Meerkats don't live near marshes and they are not cats. Their proper scientific name is Suricata suricatta.(Class - Mammalia , Order - Carnivora , Family - Viverridae.)   They were first named in 1776.  There are three different subspecies of  Meerkats. It is suspected that there is a fourth subspecies but further research is needed to prove this.  I will follow the research and when proven will provide the details.

Suricata suricatta siricata - Found in South Africa ranging in color from brown to orange

Suricata suricatta majoriae - Found in Nimibia whitish in color and banded around the eyes.

Suricata suricatta iona - Found in Angola (not many details available)

Suricata suricatta      ? - Found in the Southern Cape of Africa, orange bodies and gray heads  (further DNA research is needed to prove the 4th subspecies)

 

Meerkats are born with hair but not full coats and with their eyes closed.  They will live in the wild up to 10 years. However, in captivity they can live to be 15 years of age.  Although they are relatively healthy animals, they are unfortunately prone to bovine tuberculosis and have been known to get rabies. When they are adults at about one year of age they will weigh around 2 pounds (750 - 820 grams) and stand an average of 12 inches high (30 centimeters). When they are on all four of their feet their height is only 6 inches (15 centimeters).  Like all mongooses, they are agile hunters; however, they differ considerably from most of their other relatives.  Unlike the typical mongoose of which there are around 35 types, Meerkats live in communities and depend on one another for survival. There are three other types of sociable mongooses, the Banded, the Kousi Mansi and the Dwarf mongooses. They also live in groups, but are not usually found in the Kalahari desert.  While most mongooses are nocturnal, Meerkats hunt during the day. They live at night in burrows, which are complex tunnel systems consisting of mounds, access holes, and tunnels which lead to numerous sleeping chambers. A Meerkat community is called a mob or gang, and can  number up to 40. There is always a dominate alpha male and dominate alpha female in each gang.  The Meerkats larger mongoose relatives typically live alone or in pairs. These intelligent animals are extremely communicative and posses a large vocabulary. They flourish in their environment and are not endangered.

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Meerkats live in southern part of Africa which is dominated by the Kalahari desert - The Kalahari spreads over the countries of South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The Kalahari desert has little rainfall and an arid climate with open plains.  It spreads across the Southern part of Africa covering over one million square miles and is 10 times the size of Great Britain.  The land is covered by a porous or soft sand that in many places is bright orange in color.  The temperature in the summer months of October to April can reach 115 (f) or around 40 (c) which can give a sand temperature of 158 (f) or 70(c).  In this harsh environment the difference between being in the sun and shade can be up to 86 (f) or 30 (c).  The winter months from May to September are very different from the summer, you will see highs around 70 (f) or 22 (c) during the short days and lows at night  down to 14 (f) or -10 (c). Winter is the dry season. 

The average rainfall is 12 inches (300 millimeters) which comes between January and April. This is towards the end of the summer. There is little surface water but there is quite a bit of moisture below the sand.  Generally, the broad plains of the Kalahari are covered with a thin coat of different types of grass and thorn scrub.  When it rains during the summer, which is rare, the desert transforms into a lush carpet of plants, grasses, and flowers.  

The Kalahari consists of both soft and compacted sands, ranging in color from bright orange to white.  Meerkats like the soft sand when digging for food as it lessons the energy requirements in this harsh environment. However, they prefer compact sand to build their burrows which would collapse in softer sands.  There could be any number of reasons Meerkats flourish in this environment,  though all relate to competition for food and predators.  One could speculate that the Meerkat may be a weaker type of mongoose that would find competing for food with other mongooses a tremendous hardship or that their coats would stand out making them easy prey for others. What is known is that Meerkats have specially adapted to the Kalahari, which is described later.  The Yellow and the Slender mongooses also live in the Kalahari but generally live in harmony with the Meerkats. This is primarily because they each have a different diet and are not in competition for food. Unfortunately the Yellow mongoose will sometimes eat a Meerkat pup (baby), so meerkats will keep their distance from Yellows when there are pups around.  Many other animals have also adapted over time in order to survive in this harsh environment, making the Kalahari a remarkable and interesting place. Even within this barren and harsh environment, animals and plant life flourish.

Animals in the Kalahari have a 40% lower metabolic rate then their counterparts in other parts of the world.  This adaptation allows animals to survive with less food and water.  Of course,the Kalahari's intense heat puts animals at risk of overheating, making the ability to efficiently regulate body temperature a necessity.  Body size is key, the smaller the animal the faster the loss and gain of body heat.  The "mouse-to-elephant curve" measures this relationship. The general idea is as follows, a gerbil has a 50 times higher metabolic rate than a elephant (per gram of bodyweight); therefore, the amount of energy from food that the gerbil needs to maintain its body temperature is greater than the elephants, making the need for food gathering almost constant.  The Meerkat looses 5% of its body weight over night making the search for food very important every day.  Can you imagine losing 5% of your body weight over night ?  They can also get their fluid requirements from what they eat, so water sources while not a neccessity are helpful.

Geographical Distribution
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by: Lester Levy Jr

Meerkats.net

 

Meerkat characteristics - Meerkats at adulthood will grow to a standing height of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and weigh around 2 lbs. (750-820 grams).  A pregnant female will weigh around 2.8 lb. (1.1 kilos). Their legs are short and their bodies are long and thin. Their tails are also long and thin with a dark tip. The reason for the dark tip is to identify other gang members while foraging for food. Meerkats forage for food with their tails in an upright position enabling them to easily identify their fellow gang members. Meerkats reach sexual maturity at 10 months and adulthood at 11 months. Both males and females share similar physical traits such as short hair and gray or tan markings. The markings on their backs are unique and no two are the same.  They have dark brown or black bands around their eyes. Their ears are tipped with black or dark brown. They have dark bands on their sides and back. Their faces and throat are predominately a shade of white. There are four digits on each foot with very sharp non-retractile claws which are curved. They use their claws to dig their burrows. Meerkats also have the unique ability to close their ears, this is to keep dirt out while they burrow, which they do quite often.

Meerkats fur ranges in color from silver to orange to brown.  Much of this depends on the subspecies as well as the sand color in which they live.Even in close proximity in the Kalahari you will find Meerkats with tanish fur in the dried out riverbeds and orange fur in the dunes above. Their coats have a great ability to act as both an insulation to keep heat in and an exhaust system to prevent them from overheating in the harsh climate. In the winter they will spread their hair out so to create a heat insulation effect much like a wet suit. Their stomach acts as a sort of solar panel during the winter months. Under a thin layer of stomach hair is a patch of dark skin which collects heat from the winter sun in order to provide warmth on cool days.

Meerkats vision is outstanding. They have a dark band around their eyes, which reduces any glare from the sun.  As a result, Meerkats have the ability to see a predatory bird as they look directly into the sun. A Meerkat removes sand from its eyes by blinking.  Between the eye and eye lid there is a white membrane called the nictitating membrane. This membrane acts as a windshield wiper and removes sand from their eyes with every blink. However, their ability to see things close up is not as good. Furthermore, they seem to have a problem with depth perception, not being able to focus within 20 feet (6 meters) of themselves. Often they will bob their head up and down trying to get the perspective right. As a result of this nearsightedness, they will often miss food directly in front of them. They often depend on their sense of smell to find food.

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babies eating scorpion

meerkat.org

Meerkat cuisine .-  Agile Meerkats always forage for their food in groups but catch and eat their food alone as their diet usually consist of small portions. As they search for their food they spread apart from one another on the desert floor. This distance between foraging Meerkats averages from 6 feet (2 meters) to 45 feet (15 meters), but can extend to 150 feet (50meters). The distance often depends on the availability of food. Generally Meerkats stay at their burrow one or two nights, so there line of foraging is usually from one burrow system to the next.  During the winter when there is no grass and food is sparse they have been seen being as far as 150 feet (50 meters) apart. In the late summer when desert grass may reach three feet high and food is abundant they will forage about 6 feet (2 meters) apart.  Meerkats frequently communicate with each other while they are looking for food in order to warn of possible dangers in the area or hear a distress call if one gets lost. Usually there is a Meerkat acting as a sentry watching for danger as the others look for food. This is usually the one that is the best fed at the time, there is no evidence that either sex has a predominance for sentry duty.  If trouble arises, an alarm is sounded by the sentry and the gang will band together in a mob ( a mob is when Meerkats band together to fight) to assess what the danger is, and take appropriate defense actions. Meerkats will sometimes collect food for their pups and babysitters back at the den. The young pups as they learn to search for food will follow the adults to help supplement their diet. Current studies show that the pup that gives the loudest begging call gets the most food from the adults.   

Most of the Meerkats food is found underground and their specially adapted bodies are perfect for this. Their front claws are curved and act as shovels.  They often have to dig their own body weight in dirt just to get a small insect. Foraging for a Meerkat means digging here and there and occasionally finding a tasty morsel on the surface then moving forward with the gang on the endless search for food. A typical Meerkats diet consists of worms, crickets, grasshoppers, small rodents, lizards, small snakes, birds, eggs, fruit,  and ant larvae (which they especially love). Insects are a particularly good source of nutrition for the Meerkats because they reproduce rapidly and supply an almost constant food source. I have even had the rare chance to see a Meerkat find a Kalahari truffle which is rare and very expensive in stores. He seemed to enjoy it immensely. Meerkats also love to eat poisonous scorpions which are plentiful. They do this by quickly biting off their stingers and then consuming the rest. Meerkats appear to be resistant to many deadly venom's which greatly increases the variety of their diet. A Meerkat will often drag any poisonous prey such as a scorpion or millipede across the sand before eating it. They do this to remove the chemical defenses of their soon to be meal. They will make use of a water source if one is nearby but Meerkats have developed the ability to get all their liquid requirements from their diet. In the summer, the Meerkats must work harder to get their food because the insects have burrowed deeper in the sand in order to be closer to moisture. The rain brings the insects back to the surface, which means feast to the Meerkat.

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The Meerkat home - As mentioned previously, the Meerkats live in underground  burrows which consist of entrance holes, tunnels, and sleeping chambers. There may be up to 70 different entrances to the burrow system which may also serve as an exit if the Meerkat is inside the burrow system. They are territorial and maintain an area of about one to three square miles.  Their territorial expansion depends on the size of the gang, as well as, the abundance of food and water in the area.  Meerkats mark their territory with the use of their anal gland or saliva from their cheek. This marking is done by the alpha male of the gang. They will protect their boundaries ferociously against other gangs. They have from 6 to 15 dens in their territory and will move dens every day or two. The breeding burrow ,which is where the offspring are born, is an exception to the frequent moves. Meerkats will stay at a breeding burrow for about three weeks. It is at this time that the young are able leave the burrow and start to learn to forage for food with the adults. In addition to this, the parasite loads become heavy in the burrow and fill with ticks, fleas and other undesirables after three weeks. Breeding burrows differ from other burrows in that they will have higher mounds of sand around the entrance holes. This is a result of the continual renovation of the tunnels and sleeping chambers necessary for the longer stays. The mounds of dirt around the entrances can reach up to three feet high. When breeding is successful Meerkats often return to the same breeding burrows to have there young. As the Meerkats rotate burrows, the insect population of each abandoned burrow has the opportunity to multiply. Furthermore, the burrow system itself needs to regenerate while the feces left behind becomes food for other animals and the parasite load decreases. When dens are not being used, snakes and ground squirrels often find them to be convenient residences. Mixed everywhere in the Meerkat territory are bolt holes. A bolt hole is a small system of entrances and tunnels between burrows.  These bolt holes give Meerkats a place to take cover if danger arises if they are out foraging.

The strategic reasoning behind such an elaborate construction of multiple entrances, is to provide many alternative exits if a dangerous intruder should invade their home. Likewise they have multiple entrances in the burrow if the danger is from the outside. They sleep in groups, cuddled up or on top of each other for warmth as they are particularly sensitive to the cold. In the summer they tend to space out when they sleep. Their sleeping chambers are usually 6 to 8 feet under ground. This keeps the temperature in the sleeping chamber at a more constant level, cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. There are several sleeping chambers in the den but they will only use one at a time,  in the breeding burrows there will be more sleeping chambers.  They will move sleeping chamber because of build up of contaminates.  What may seem odd to you is, Meerkats will urinate in their dens.   This could be for several reasons first it may aid in a marking system to one another. Second Meerkats don't survive well alone so to go outside at night to go to the bathroom is not a prudent thing.  In captivity though Meerkats can be trained to go to the bathroom in a litter box.  There are certain beetles that share their den that they don't eat.  These insects will eat their deification.  Above the tunnel system, there is usually a dirt mound resulting from all of their excavation. This higher vantage point serves as a lookout point for the small Meerkats. From this outpost of sorts, they can survey the terrain for predators.  This done in the the morning before they leave the burrow for foraging and in the evening before they go to bed.

Other animals, such as squirrels or the yellow mongoose, sometimes share the Meerkats burrow. Because these animals do not compete with the Meerkats for food, they are allowed to share the den.  When pup are born they will keep the yellow mongoose away because they will eat a Meerkat pup.  Predators, such as cobras, are not welcome houseguests.   Meerkats will purposely harass a cobra in the open so to discourage it from entering the den. 

Meerkats sometimes move their territories when food becomes to sparse or when another gang of Meerkats forces them from their previous den. Often territories overlap one another and a stronger Meerkat gang will overtake a weaker gangs burrow system.  This forces the weaker gang to take the loss and try to expand in another direction,  or wait tell they are stronger and retake the lost burrow system.

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Family standing on home

meerkat.org

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babies feeding

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Mating and reproduction - Meerkats try, but do not usually mate for life.  Mating in the gang is suppose to be reserved for the alpha male and alpha female, but things happen to change this.  First the alpha male might die or be overthrown by another male from inside their gang or another gang.  Or the alpha female might mate with a male from a wondering male from another gang while out foraging for food, the alpha male never knowing.  What they won't do is mate with another direct family member. When the dominate female is ready to breed she will chase away all the other beta families that can bear children, this will be females at 10 months and older.  The temporary outcast will follow the gang until the alpha female has had her pups (babies) and regains her strength.  This is done because she wants only her offspring in the gang and another beta female might try and displace her during her weakened time of giving birth.  The trailing females often get impregnated from males from other gangs they encounter.  Often they will abort these births.  If the do give birth they will attempt to sneak them in with the pups of the alpha female.  The alpha female will if she notices kill and eat the beta females babies.  The beta female have about a 20% chance of getting the young snack in with the alphas females pups.   A interesting note, if the alpha female pup die, no other meerkat will eat them.  A few days after the birth of the alphas pups, the once outlasted females will rejoin the gang and help with the giving milk to the new pups if they are able.  It was once observed that a beta female killed the alpha females pups just after birth and replace them with her pups a few days later,   the alpha female not knowing the difference.  They can breed every two months but tend to successfully breed two to three times a year depending on food availability.  There was one gang observed breeding four times in a year.  The gestational period is 70 days resulting in a litter of usually five to six. The pregnant female will increase her body weigh approximately 40% gestation (see - Meerkats are a type of mongoose).  The babies, called pups, are born with sparse fur and eyes closed.   For the first two weeks they stay in the sleeping chamber and drink their mothers or milk producing females. The third week they will venture outside and stay around the burrow system with a babysitter. .  During this period when the alpha female is not feeding the young, babysitters will watch the pups while the alpha female goes out to feed, fortifying her supply of milk and her strength.  She will do less sentry duty at this time and never babysitting.  From week 4 to week 6 the pups will forage with their elders getting nourishment from both milk and insects.   At 6 weeks to 16 weeks they will find their own food as well as be supplemented by the elders, and no longer getting milk.  Studies show that the pups that make the loudest begging calls get fed the most from the elders.  After sixteen weeks they are on there own to find there food  Each pup will be taken on by a adult Meerkat which will act as a mentor, who will take the responsibility to teach the pup necessary skills for foraging for food as well as responding to danger.  Male Meerkats tend to mentor male pups and female Meerkats tend to mentor the female pups.  Many of skills Meerkats have are taught by the mentors rather then being instinctual.    

Meerkats reach sexual maturity at 10 months, and reach adulthood at 11 months.  After 10 months a Meerkat may venture out of the gang looking for breeding opportunities. They may also  leave to form new gangs or join other gangs.  They also may stay with their original gang for up to three years before venturing out.  They also may leave in groups of two or three.  It takes a brave Meerkat to leave the gang because the road out if filled with many dangers for the sole are small group.

Typical day of a Meerkat - Meerkats are extremely social animals.  Observing Meerkats is a  wonderful experience. They love grooming one another, wrestling and playing with one other.  They have avid curiosities and can make a toy of almost anything.   Even with all this play, Meerkats do not ignore the need for security.  One Meerkat always seems to be a  sentry and stands guard to keep the gang safe.

There typical day consist of, they wake up early in the morning as the first rays of sun stretch across the Kalahari.  The first to come out of the burrow is usually the last one in from the preceding night.   This Meerkat surveys the area to make sure the coast is clear after that the others start to rise one by one from several entrances.  They start by soaking up the sun to warm up there bodies from the nights sleep by facing the sun and using their stomachs as solar panels..  One may observe some digging around the entrances, this seems to be more like exercise to warm their bodies up.  Then the young start to scurry around play and grooming one another, as the elders spend time grooming sunning.  Once hunger starts to set in, the search for food is on.  The alpha male sets the direction for the day and decide weather or not to move towards another burrow system..  Scurrying hear and there and digging here and there, but always one is on sentry.  As the day goes on and the heat sets in they will stop for a rest.  These rest periods are longer during the summers but so are the days.  As the day cools they are off again in the afternoon in search of food.     Just before sunset they will arrive at the den for the night.  At this time they will commence on repairs of the den as well as well deserved grooming and giving one another affection which is really marking one another with the anal gland or cheek saliva.   As the sun falls, they descend one by one into the burrow for sleep all huddled together.  Lastly, they don't like the rain and will stay in their burrow and not forage for food until the rain stops.

Interestingly enough Meerkats seem to identify one another my smell rather than sight.   That is why the are constantly marking one another.  For instance if a Meerkat gets separated for some time and try to rejoin the gang, the gang will think it is a intruder and get in a mobbing defense stance ( mobbing is when they huddle together so to look bigger and present aggressive behavior) until they smell what they think is the unknown Meerkat.  Once the sent is recognized everything is fine.

                                                                Two babies playing - by -Alain Degre

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A sentry in a tree

by:Alain Degre

 

Meerkats social structure - To survive, Meerkats must live in groups for protection, as the desert presents many challenges.  Each Meerkat has an important, role to perform. It was first thought Meerkats had well defined roles in their gang from being a sentry to baby sitting to foraging for food for the young.  Recent studies have disprove this  and actually show that hormonal changes in Meerkats influence their behavior.  Also the conditions around the burrow system effect their responsibilities.   When food and water is abundant more time is spent being sentries, renovating the burrow systems, relaxing and caring for the young. Some things are instinctual while others are  taught to the pups by the elders.  For example raising young is a learned behavior for Meerkats. If a pup is separated at birth and kept as a pet, and the pup gets pregnant.  She will not know how to raise her young or teach them how to forage for food.  Meerkat roles vary:

alpha male - Dominate male of the gang, has breeding rights to the alpha female.                            The dominate male is not necessarily decided by the largest male in                            the gang.

alpha female - Dominate female of the gang, all betas are subservient to her.                                Only one that is suppose to breed in the gang.

beta male - Subservient males will leave the gang by 3 years in search of better                          breeding opportunities. They are 10 months or older

beta female - Subservient females will support the alpha Meerkats.  They will                              be driven temporally from the gang by the alpha female when she                              is ready to get pregnant.   They will leave the gang by 3 years in                              search of better breeding opportunities.  At 10 months or older                              they are at sexual maturity.

pups - Meerkat babies, 10 months or younger.

babysitter - Stays with the pups while the gang is out foraging for food.                           Different gang members take the responsibility different days, this                            is not domiated by males of females. Generally though the least                            hungry Meerkat will do the babysitting. The alpha female never                            baby-sits. This duty is for Meerkats 6 months or older.

sentry - Watches over the gang to spot danger.  It is either done standing on the                    ground or climbing a tree or bush.  Known to climb up to 30 feet in a                    tree to do sentry duty.  This duty is not dominated by males or female.                   There is a sentry on watch both at the burrow system as well as when the                    gang is foraging for food.  During times of less available food less                    sentry duty is done when searching for food.

excavating - Necessary to renovate burrow systems.   Often Meerkats will get                            one behind another and work together to move sand out of the                            burrow system.  Like how firemen would hand buckets of water to                            one another to put out a fire in the old days.

mentoring - A elder Meerkat will take on the responsibility of teach a pup the                            do's and do don'ts of being a Meerkat.  This includes how to raise                            young, how to forage for food, and what dangers lurk about.

grooming - Meerkats like to groom one another, and in fact have a natural reflex                          to groom when the area where there back and tail meet is stimulated.                          They will remove ticks and fleas from one anther and actually eat                          them,    though these parasites are not a normal part of the diet

play fighting - Often done by the young in the morning and to a lesser degree in                               the evening.  Adults will also play fight.  This teaches the young                                to fight as well puts a dominance order to the gang.

Beta males and famales often leave the gang by three years to live with different gangs or join together to form different gangs in order to increase their chances to breed.  Meerkats that embark on this journey alone or in groups of two or three face great danger, as Meerkats are most vulnerable when they few in number. Sometimes Meerkats will ally themselves with one another and takeover another gang, and getting rid of the competitive alpha male and perhaps the alpha female. 

The size and makeup of the meerkat community determines what duties each will have.   There is usually a dominate male and female in the community although there also seems to be a second in command.  I have seen a case where the alpha female was killed and the alpha male did not seem to know what to do.  He had not taken on another alpha female because that would mean a female from the outside.  It was felt he would at some point leave the gang in search of throwing out another alpha male from a rival gang.  The alpha male is responsible for marking the territory, some of the foraging trips turn into more of scouting trips so the alpha male can mark the outer boundaries of the territory.  These tend to be days of more movement and less foraging for food.

Fights happen between rival Meerkat gangs.  It generally happens for two reasons.   One is territory conflict.  When one gang encroaches on another gangs territory.  Once the two gangs come in contact with one another they group up together and fluff their fur out and jump up and down to make themselves appear bigger, also making allot of noise.  This is called mobbing.  Each gang is assessing the others strength.  Sometimes they separating and go opposite directions other times a ferocious fight breaks out.  Meerkats will kill rival gang members if they can.   Also during a fight 2 or 3 Meerkats may jump on a rival biting and scratching him. It will look like a big pile of dust. During or directly after attacks, the dominant male will take a few minutes to asses the situation and decide weather there was a victory or his gang members have fled, in this case he will retreat himself.  The other case happens when roaming Meerkats either solo or in small groups are looking for better breeding possibilities try to join other gangs.  Mobbing occurs and they may be or may not be successful at joining the gang..

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popgif.gif (14239 bytes)#How did the Meerkat evolve  

How did the Meerkat evolve - According to  Sean Doolan, they evolved from the southern tip of Africa or the Cape of Good Hope,where a type of  extinct Meerkat, called the Suricata Suricatta major, has been found .  The extinct Meerkat was similar to the banded mongoose.  The current theory is that the Meerkat evolved from the banded mongoose. As the weather climate changed in the region, so did the Meerkats ability to survive in drier conditions.

Why the meerkat stands - Meerkats walk and run on all four, there head is only six inches above ground in this state. When they stand, their total height is 12 inches, providing them with a much better vantage point to see danger. In order to attain an even better vantage point, they will also climb trees and bushes.  Their vision is good but depth perception does not appear to be as strong.  They bob their head up and down to get distance measurement when objects or close.  this gives them different focal points.When facing a threat, they will stand, arch their bodies and erect their tails in an attempt to appear bigger.

What threatens Meerkats? - The threats to a meerkat come from  sky, land and weather.  In the sky, the Martial Eagle, with a wing span of six feet, can easily prey on adults, while other smaller birds of prey prefer to snatch the young.  When the winged predator is seen the alarm goes out and all sprint for nearby bolt holes. If they are not near any bolt holes the will lie on the ground and depend on camouflage They also may take cover in thorny bushes where the birds dare not venture.  On the ground, the jackal and other wild cats are the Meerkats primary foe; however, when banded together, Meerkats have the ability to chase away a jackal.  Badgers can also be a threat, as their burrowing can penetrate the Meerkats den making them more vulnerable prey.  As mentioned previously, the cobra sometimes threatens meerkat young.  Meerkats will mob a cobra relentlessly if it tries to enter their burrow.  They are agile enough to avoid a snakes strike.  They even have the ability to kill a cobra.   If they come across one while our foraging they will temporarily mob it and once the situation is under control move on.  A puff header snake will also eat Meerkat pups.   I have read about a sighting in which a group of Banded mongooses actually climbed a tree to rescue one of their family members from a eagle.  Both the Banded mongoose and the meerkat have similar social habits.

Meerkats are also threatened by other competitive gangs as mentioned above.  The sentry's alarm will sound if another gang of Meerkats is encroaching upon marked territory.  The fights are fierce but sometimes fatal as submission is the goal.  The winners, usually the larger of the groups, take or keep the burrow system in question. One interesting note after the fight and Meerkats try and rejoin there gang small fight break out because they have difficulty recognizing each other by sight.  The Meerkat rejoining their gang may smell like the rival gang.  After the conflict, the winners will hug and congratulate each other with human-like gestures, this is rely remarking each other.. Often   non-dominant Meerkats defect from the losing group to the winner's side.

The summer rains also threaten the Meerkats.  When rain approaches, the sentry sends the alarm off.  As there are often newborns during this time, they must make sure the are on high ground so to avoid a flooding of the burrow system.  The alpha female will transport the young one by one to the higher ground burrow. At night they may get stuck in a flooding burrow system.

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The most famous of all Meerkats - There are two famous Meerkats that should be mentioned   One is Timone, who was featured in the Lion King.  Timone, the cartoon character, is based on the real-life Meerkat Timone who which is domesticated resides outside of Palm Springs, California at the only private refuge for Meerkats in existence.  For more information, visit www.meerkats.com. You can actually go and visit Timone and hand feed other Meerkats there. I did and it was a terrific experience.

The second is Ziziphus of the Lazuli gang.  She is a wild Meerkat and lives in the Kalahari and has been the subject of numerous documentaries and films.  One of her more prominent projects is Walking With Meerkats which is a National Geographic documtory filmed in 2000. 

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Meerkat communication - Meerkats constantly communicate with one another in three different ways: scent, sound, and body language.  There have over 20 different sounds that have been recorded which have different meanings.  These calls can be broken down into six different groups: lost calls, alarm calls, leading the group calls, pup feeding calls, guarding calls, and foraging calls.  For example, while out looking for food, they are are constantly communicating in what sounds like a kind of growling.  It helps them to keep track of one another's location since they forage up to 15 feet (5 meters) apart.  When the young are learning how to forage, they are very loud and can be heard up to a hundred yards away. If they become separated from the adults, the volume of their cries increases so that an adult will come to get them.  They have numerous sounds that are used when grooming and playing

When on guard duty, there is an entirely different assortment of sounds employed. These sounds are constant and communicate to everyone else what is happening during the watch.  When everything is fine, the sentry emits mellow tones. When a predator is spotted at a distance, a beeping sound is given, almost like a yellow alert.  If the predator gets closer, the sound differentiates depending on the type of predator. The martial eagle tends to get the most frantic alarm even from great distance.   Meerkats allow some predators to get very close before they sound the red alert (up to 100 feet from the den).

One last interesting point, sound can be broken up into one, two, three, and even four syllable calls.

 

How the seasons effect Meerkats -

In the Savanna desert, temperatures can vary greatly.  Remember, Meerkats live on southern hemisphere as opposed to the United States and Europe which are on the northern hemisphere. South of the equator and the seasons are opposite of those in the northern hemisphere.  The Kalahari summer is considered the wet season, .  The summer months October to April temperature can reach 115 (f) or around 40 (c) which can give a sand temperature of 158 (f) or 70(c).   In this harsh environment the difference between being in the sun and shade can be up to 86 (f) or 30 (c).  The winter months from May to September are very different from the summer, you will see highs around 70 (f) or 22 (c) during the short days and lows at night  down below freezing to 14 (f) or -10 (c). Winter is the dry season.  Because of these dramatic temperature changes, their feeding habits change accordingly

In the wet season or summer, Meerkats get up early in order to avoid looking for food in the heat.   As the day gets warmer, they look for food in shaded areas. At mid-day they return to their den or find a nice, shaded spot for a mid-day nap.  If they nap outside,  they will lie on their belly with legs stretched out and often throw cooler sand on their back.  They will pant during the summer this aids in reducing their body temperature. The yellow mongoose shares this behavior. They wake for a late afternoon feeding which ends at sunset. This season is a virtual feast for Meerkats, as the rain brings out an abundance of food and vegetation especially towards the end of summer from January to April.  Grasses on the dunes can reach heights of over three feet tall! Meerkats will eat to their hearts content and their little bellies stick out.

In the dry season or winter, they wait until it warms up a little (9 a.m.) to go and look for food.  No mid-day naps at this time.  They stay out all day and get back around 4:30 p.m.  Meerkats then remain in their den to avoid the rapid and severe temperature change night brings. Food is not as abundant during this time and foraging for food is more difficult.  They have to do allot more digging and cover more territory to find adequate nutrition.  They will also eat ants, ant eggs, millipedes, and small beetles which are less appealing to them than their summer favorites of  lizards, insect larvae, and scorpions.

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Meerkats like most other living creatures change their behavior patterns as conditions change.  As one reads about the charertistics of any animal you must know whether the animal was observed in captivity or in the wild.   Unfortunately most of what has been written about Meerkats has been in captivity, because of the remote habitat where they live makes it hard reach.  Therefor it is interesting to understand how their behavior changes when confined to zoos. 

The gang will find many differences in captivity.  For example food will be abundant and the normal procurement of food such as digging is not necessary.   Also space is significantly limited.  So the Meerkats will not migrate from burrow to burrow, but stay in one burrow system.  They also are  not able to forage for food keeping them within meters of there burrow system for their whole lives.   Predators are non existent in captivity so there alert systems are dulled.   In captivity one will find Meerkats living longer and bigger.  Meerkats do fine in captivity, in fact for the Meerkat which spends most of its time looking for food in the wild, this is probably a vacation.  In captivity Meerkats are known to mate up to twice a year while in the wild they only mate once a year.  Their cuisine is quite different to.  In captivity the keepers may feed mice, worms and other sorted insects locally available.  A Scorpion, a Meerkat delight would never be seen.  Meerkats that don't get along with the gang will be separated and put in another habitat.

Would Meerkats make good pets? - The answer to this question is no, not really.    In the United States, you need special permits to keep these animals.   The government mandates strict specification for Meerkats enclosures as well as their climate.  Meerkats will think your family is their gang and the are the alpha.   When you have guest to your home they will get aggressive towards them.  A host of other animals would make more appropriate pets! I have run into many people in  southern part of Africa that keep Meerkats as pets and say they can be friendly.   They are terrific pets though if you have a scorpion infestation problem.

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as of march 2005