It’s hard not to love meerkats, or suricates, as they’re otherwise known. With their sharp snouts and dark eye patches, they’re attractive little guys. But what I love about them most is that they’re endlessly entertaining.
On our recent 12-day summer visit, we were lucky to see them on every day but two. Of course, it helped that the rains hadn’t come yet, so the land was dry, the grass sparse and short. Given that meerkat are only about 28 centimetres long (not counting their tails) they’re much harder to spot when the grass is long, even if they’re standing tall on the lookout for birds who might be thinking of bombing them.
At first there were just two of them, standing side by side next to a bolt hole with military precision, scanning the skies. Then another popped its head out from the den, and another. One or two yo-yoed up and down before finally deciding to emerge. Slowly-slowly more meerkat joined them until 17 were above ground. Most of them just warmed up, tummies to the sun, but a few of the smaller ones practised scratching and jump-running from one hole to another.
Another day. Another clan. Bouncing along and digging happily. But it was mid-morning and very hot, pushing 40 degrees Celsius. Those who had already filled up on yummies took to the shade of six-inch-high bushlets. Which isn’t as daft as it sounds: here in the Kalahari the difference between the temperature in the sun and the shade can be around 20 degrees. They wriggled into the shade and scraped away the hotter surface sand to uncover fresh, cool sand. And they spread out at full stretch on their tummies, legs splayed to the side like spatchcock chickens. Bliss.
This should have been a moment to savour, but a bigger meerkat darted in and tried to grab the prize.
But the squirrel had been panicking for nothing, and before long it was business as usual. Scratch, dig, jump … chew, scratch, dig … just another day in the life of a Kalahari meerkat.
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