Discovering the wonderful world of meerkats
Lively, inquisitive and highly social, meerkats have captivated the public in recent years with their bustling antics.
It's easy to see the appeal of these charismatic creatures; not only are they cute to look at, but their tight-knit family groups and ability to cooperate as a community make them seem appealingly human. Their playful character and active lifestyles make them intriguing animals to observe up close, particularly in their natural desert habitats in southern Africa.
What is a meerkat?
Where do meerkats live?
Meerkats can be found throughout the desert landscapes of Southern Africa, including areas such as the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, the Namib Desert in Namibia and parts of South Africa and Angola. They're well adapted to life in the desert, occupying rambling, multi-room burrows that stay cool even in the intense heat of day.
Large meerkat populations can be found in areas such as The Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve in Botswana, where safaris offer you the chance to observe the creatures during their most active periods of the day.
Meerkats can be hard animals to spot due to the colour of their fur, which enables them to blend in with the desert and thus provides excellent camouflage from predators. Guided tours therefore often represent your best chance of spotting the creatures in the vast landscapes of the Kalahari Desert.
When is the best time to see them?
Meerkats are active throughout the year and can be observed at any time during daylight hours. They are particularly busy at sunrise, when they emerge from their burrows to warm up under the sunshine before heading off to forage for food.
Adult meerkats are constantly on the move and can travel over one kilometre per day, a considerable distance for a creature of their size. They will often sleep in different locations, and some tour operators deploy rangers to track the meerkats in order to present visitors with the best possible chance of observing them.
Meerkats can be hard to locate once they start foraging for insects such as beetles, crickets and worms; however, they do return to their underground dens at sunset. This is another good time of day to spot them, as they go about their final day's activity before retiring to their burrows for the night.
The meerkat breeding season stretches from October to April and is generally the best period to visit for those eager to catch a glimpse of baby meerkats.
All images courtesy of Chris Eason and Emma Fisher.