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Meerkats in Africa
The meerkat or suricate …. is a mongoose. Meerkats live in the Kalahari and Namib Deserts, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It’s the only member of the genus Suricata - (Suricata suricatta) and belongs to the mongoose family (Herpestidae). A ‘mob’, ‘clan’ or ‘gang’ is the collective term for a group of meerkat. A group generally consists of 20 meerkat although some meerkat families can have up to 50 members!
Meerkat Makgadikgadi - Courtesy Will-Burrard Lucas Photography
In the wild, meerkat live an average of 6 to 7 years whereas in captivity they can reach a life span of between 12 and 14 years. With an average weight of 0.5 to 2.5 kg (1.1 to 5.5 lbs).
The body is long and slender reaching 35 to 50 cms (14-20 ins) extending a further 25 cms (9.8 ins) if you include the tail!
The tail is used for signaling to the rest of the pack and for balancing. The black crescent ears are small. Claws are finger-like and used for digging for prey and burrowing. The meerkat uses it’s hind claws for climbing trees. The underside of the tummy has fine sparse hair which is used for the absorption of heat from the sunlight when the meerkat is standing up. You often see them standing together are a chilly desert night.
Meerkats have binocular vision so both eyes are used together. The eyes themselves have distinctive black patches around them. The coat is tan, gray and brown with touches of silver with parallel stripes to the back which run from the shoulders to the tail base. These stripe patterns are unique to the individual.
Meerkat are primarily insectivores. Living on a diet of insects, but they also enjoy snakes, scorpions, lizards, eggs, plants, millipedes, centipedes and some small mammals. They forage and search for food while one of the group looks out for predators. They’ll take it in turns with a meerkat’s watch lasting for around an hour. Surprisingly a meerkat can dig its own weight in sand in just a matter of seconds due to their powerful claws. They teach their young to forage when they’re as young as one month old and they’re taught by one of the elders of the gang.
At around two years of age the meerkat is sexually mature. They are iteroparous so can give birth to their young at any time of the year. The pregnancy lasts for 11 weeks and they give birth to 3 or 4 babies underground. The young meerkat open their eyes when they’re 10 to 14 days old and can hear from 10 days. Weaning takes place between 49 and 63 days.
Mothers can differentiate between the scent of her babies and that of another meerkat’s offspring. A trait which is used to avoid inbreeding between the gangs so strengthening the gene pool.