Nicknamed the desert sentries, meerkats have a very organized social life: the lookout is summoned to alert the tribe in the event of imminent danger when the babysitters watch over the babies. Portrait of a small carnivore which owes its survival to solidarity of the group.
The meerkat lives in hostile environments
Nicknamed the sentinel of the desert, the suricate is a diurnal mammal belonging to the order of carnivorous and the herpestidae family (mongooses). There are three subspecies:
- The suricate suricata suricatta occupies arid savannahs and desert areas ofSouthern Africa (Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa);
- The suricate suricatta marjoriae frequents the Namib Desert, central and north-western Namibia;
- The suricate suricatta iona inhabits the pre-desert of Namibia, in the extreme south of Angola.
A coat as light as the desert
The meerkat’s coat ranges from brown to light gray to color sand and displays some dark bands on the dorsal part. The ears and eye area are black to protect the animal from the sun and its round head is extended by a small pointed muzzle. Its paws have non-retractable claws and its long tail is sometimes used as a tripod to stand up, especially when keeping watch. The mammal measures 20 to 50 centimeters and weighs between 600 grams and 1 kilo.
The tight-knit clan of the meerkat
The meerkat lives in a group usually made up of 20 to 30 individuals and comprising several males and females of reproductive age as well as parents and their offspring. Young adults who have not yet reached sexual maturity are responsible for taking care of the babies, the burrow and ensuring the protection of the territory. These small carnivores engage in daily hugs which ensure the cohesion of the group, an essential factor for their survival in a hostile environment where predators lie in wait. All live in the same refuge and show great solidarity in all circumstances because a meerkat living alone is doomed to dead certain.
The vital role of sentries
Meerkats adopt a precise organization to protect themselves from threats. Thus, their burrow is always found at proximity from their hunting grounds and when they go in search of food, they remain within cry of the sentries. By digging deep into the earth to find their sustenance, the herpestidae indeed become easy targets for them. predators. Perched on a rock, a stump or a termite mound, members of the colony serve as a lookout by standing on their tails and hind legs to obtain a better view of the horizon. Various types of vocalizations inform about the origin of the danger (air or land) in order to help the members of the clan to adapt their behavior: to regroup to intimidate the enemy, to regain their shelter or to flatten themselves on the ground.
The meerkat is immune to the venom
The meerkat is a prone omnivore insectivorous which feeds in summer and winter on beetles, butterflies, termites, grasshoppers, centipedes and locusts. To find its prey, it noses in the sand or in the earth with its snout. The mammal can also eat snails and small vertebrates such as amphibians, rodents (mice, rats), lizards, birds and it also happens to steal eggs. The herpestid does not disdain scorpions and snakes, of which it does not fear the venom against which it is naturally immune (as well as a wide variety of poisons). The meerkathydrate by consuming plants, fruits, tubers or bulbs.
Meerkats, precious babysitters
At the end of a gestation period of 11 weeks, the female gives birth to a litter varying from 2 to 5 young in one of the chambers of the burrow. Young meerkats – who are born deaf and blind – are suckled and groomed by their mother with vigorous licks. Initially, the female spends her days outdoors looking for food while the adults in the colony watch over the newborns. Two weeks later, the young begin to stick their snouts out of the burrow but the permanent weaning will only intervene after nine weeks. The adults in care are the first to supply the young, then their mother will encourage them to hunt running in front of them with a prey in its mouth. Little by little, they will start to look for their sustenance themselves and around 6 months, they will begin their sentinel activity. For new births, they will in turn be responsible for babysitting. The sexual maturity is reached around the age of one year.
No threats to the meerkat
The raptors (martial eagle, ravishing eagle) are among the main predators of the meerkat in addition to jackals, coyotes and large snakes. The populations of this small mammal evolve in environments inhospitable where human activities do not develop. In this context, the species is not threatened and does not benefit from any specific protection measure. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the meerkat as Least Concern.