Charismatic, altruistic and photogenic - the enormously entertaining Meerkat
The Kalahari Desert is surprisingly full of interesting stuff and is definitely worth incorporating as part of a Botswana safari. There is no shortage of curious wildlife, unique camps that will simply knock your safari boots right off, the remarkable Bushmen tribespeople, and of course the very funky meerkat.
A social mongoose, meerkats are found in the most inhospitable areas in southern Africa - the common name is Afrikaans and translates as 'Marsh Cat' although they are clearly neither a Cat nor live in a Marsh (perhaps much Klipdrift had been imbibed?). Highly gregarious, they are accomplished diggers and burrow in the sands of the Kalahari. They go out foraging en-masse, seeking beetles, scorpions, lizards and the occasional bird's egg. Since they in turn are popular snacks for birds of prey, they take turns standing alertly on their hind legs on anything raised (including any convenient person) to survey the landscape for danger. The entire group is in constant contact and complex vocalizations are used between the senitel and the colony, remarkably they have a different call for a Martial Eagle (which is a threat) from the very similarly patterned Black-breasted Snake-Eagle (which is not).
Ever since (now Professor) Tim Clutton-Brock started the Kalahari Meerkat Project in the early 1990's where several wild colonies of meerkats were successfully habituated to a state of complete nonchalance, meerkats have been a big draw, this was compounded by their starring roles in Meerkat Manor and Life of Mammals.
Meerkats are hugely charismatic and fun to observe and photograph - they will happily carry out their daily chores in the company of a human fan-club - this makes for a very entertaining morning out in the bush, especially if you’re travelling with kids. If you are keen to see meerkats in the fur, so to speak, you can do so in Botswana in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Posted by: Rod Tether