Distribution: The vast majority of wild meerkats live in the Kalahari Desert; this desert is spread across South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Habitat: Mainly open arid savannah.
Food: A wide diversity of prey is taken, from small mammals and reptiles, to crickets, spiders, worms, beetles, centipede and millipedes, tubers, roots, fruit, nuts and even scorpions.
Lives in complex but tightly-knit family groups, with the alpha female ruling the family
A group/family of meerkats is known as a gang, mob or clan. The family unit can comprise of 65 members!! But 20-40 being the norm.
advantages of living within a large family unit are numerous, the day to day survival in the harsh African environment is made a little a little easier as they are many more pairs of eyes to scan for danger, more individuals to help raise the alpha’s young as well as more members to help defend each ‘mobs’ territory.
They are a diurnal mammal, which is active from dawn till dusk but will often hideaway during the worst of the day’s heat in their burrows.
The meerkats underground burrow system is extensive, featuring many different tunnels and chambers.
The family structure is both very complex and quite brutal to those members who step out of line. There have been recorded over 20 different sounds within the meerkats vocabulary, with each sound having a very specific meaning. Body language and smell also play a fundamental role that allows them to communicate effectively between each individual.
The dark eyes and dark bands around them help to protect their eyes and reflect the glare of the sun; it also allows the meerkats to look into the sun and spot approaching danger from many hawks, eagle and falcons that share the meerkats environment.
The gestation period is 70 days and the average number of young in a litter is 5-6.
The average life-span is 12-14 years.
In their native habitat nearly all their drinking water is taken from their diet, so in the wild (in the dry season) these amazing little mammals drink no water what’s-so-ever!!
You can often see meerkats sitting upright with their bellies directed towards the sun, the dark fur acts like a solar panel and helps to absorb the sunlight, UV and vitamin D for the health and wellbeing of the individual.
The common name of this species comes from the Afrikaans language, meaning ‘marsh-cat’. These animals do not live in marshes and are not a member of the cat species, meerkats belong to the mongoose family.
In certain parts of Africa they are often called ‘Sun angles’.
We have some more great photos over in our Meerkat Mania photo album on Facebook