Our resident jack-in-the-box meerkats are a constant source of entertainment. They scurry around on all fours darting around foraging during the broad daylight, and occasionally bolt into an upright position to scan the wilderness for signs of imminent threats. The first meerkat to bolt upright is called the sentinel. The sentinel has a key role to play in surveying the area for danger which involves standing on an elevated area to scan the wilderness for intruders while the gang forages in peace. When we track meerkats, we tend to keep an eye-out for the sentinel – these guardians are our beacons for finding the rest of the community.
The pivotal role of sentinel is normally favoured by one meerkat, but others will occasionally rise to this important position, which gives the rest of the community a chance to find their fill of carnivorous delights of beetles, grubs, lizards and termites. Meerkats do well in the arid Karoo environment. They are capable of extracting water from the various bulbs and tubers buried deep within the soil. A species perfectly adept at surviving severe climatic conditions.
Roam Private Game Reserve is home to a a mob of entertaining meerkats, but it takes skill to find these gangs. When they’re foraging in daylight the packs will split somewhat and are often located within a few metres of one another. Meerkats spend time meandering their way through burrow systems where they seek shelter in various chambers and intricate tunnel systems.
To photograph and film them can be tricky, given that they could bolt from the lens at any given moment. They’re also small and incredibly well-camouflaged in the low-lying khaki scrub. It requires patience and the use of all senses to find the colonies! With their pups also being raised inside the warrens and so much time spent in the burrows, it does require a certain level of patience to observe these bristly creatures.
The mobs will spend the nocturnal hours immersed in the comfort of their burrow system, far away from predators such as jackals, bat-eared foxes and other carnivorous creatures. Colonies can reach numbers of up to 25 and these feisty little carnivores are actually notoriously territorial! They will go to war if a neighbouring pack crosses over into their turf.
Here are a few facts about the meerkats :
- The meerkat is from the same family as the mongoose, and much like their cousins they are also gregarious squirrel like animals that live in large communities.
- The colony has an alpha male and female, but the males are the dominant sex and may even prevent females from mating. There is one dominant female that gives birth to 2 – 4 pups a year.
- Pups are raised by other adults within the community. When the mob leaves the den area, a few of the meerkats will stay behind to “babysit” the youngsters.
- Meerkats have the perfect body structure to withstand harsh environments and searing heat. The dark patches around their eyes means that they can easily reflect the glare from the desert sun.
Videographer Rogan Kerr spent ample time trying to track and locate the various gangs, and after considerable time they let him into their world.