Tuesday, December 13, 2011



Strange little creatures Meerkats are
Bobbing up and down, looking afar

One of them is always the scout
He’s on patrol, always looking out

When he’s had enough its time for another
The next scout might be his sister or brother

His duty is over, time to eat and sleep
Every now and then, he will have a peep

Just to make sure all is quite right
And get ready for his next shift later that night

Helen Antonas

I visit the local zoo as often as I can and enjoy viewing the larger animals. I pass elephants, bears, lions, tigers, kangaroos and zebras as I walk around, but my favorite place to rest and observe is the area where the meerkats live.

The meerkat is a small mammal and a member of the mongoose family. It inhabits all parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and South Africa.
In Africa it is known as the sun angel, as it is believed that it protects villages from the moon devil or the werewolf, which may attack stray cattle or a lone tribesmen.

The meerkat is small weighing on average about 2 pounds and uses its tail to balance when standing upright. It has small black crescent-shaped ears that can close when digging to keep sand out. Like cats, meerkats have binocular vision, a large peripheral range, depth perception, and eyes on the front of their faces. At the end of each of a meerkat's "fingers" is a non-retractable, strong ½ inch long, curved claw used for digging underground burrows and digging for prey.

They primarily feed on insects but also eat lizards, snakes, scorpions, spiders, plants, eggs, small mammals, millipedes, centipedes and, more rarely, small birds.

I really enjoy watching them because one ‘worker’ will frantically work nonstop until he becomes tired and at that time a replacement worker takes over and the first goes for some rest. They forage in a group with one "sentry" on guard watching for predators while the others search for food. They are agile hunters. Sentry duty is usually approximately an hour long.

They are very social creatures living in colonies that average 20-30 members. They regularly groom each other to strengthen social bonds. Meerkats demonstrate altruistic behavior within their colonies; When a predator is spotted, the meerkat performing as sentry gives a warning bark, and other members of the gang will run and hide in one of the many bolt holes they have spread across their territory. The sentry meerkat is the first to reappear from the burrow and search for predators, constantly barking to keep the others underground. If there is no threat, the sentry meerkat stops signaling and the others feel safe to emerge.

They also babysit the young in the group. Females that have never produced offspring of their own often lactate to feed the alpha pair's young, while the alpha female is away with the rest of the group. They also protect the young from threats, often endangering their own lives. On warning of danger, the babysitter takes the young underground to safety and is prepared to defend them if the danger follows. If retreating underground is not possible, she collects all of the young together and lies on top of them.Meerkats have been known to engage in social activities, including what appear to be wrestling matches and foot races.

I often feel incredulous as I watch them taking care of each other, nothing is left to chance by these tenacious creatures who can also display great tenderness towards each other.

"All for one and one for all" seems to be the motto for these tiny warriors living throughout the African continent. Small and vulnerable, they make their way by working together, rarely taking on danger alone. Meerkats have an average life span of 12-14 years. These intelligent animals are extremely communicative and posses a large vocabulary.

Meerkats live in communities and depend on one another for survival. They flourish in their environment and are not endangered.

As I watch them I sometimes find myself wishing that humans could mirror their behavior. All have equal importance and they rotate the jobs that they do so that each learns how to enhance the life skills that will keep them all safe and protected. We could learn a lot from them.

"All for one and one for all" - or in today's language

Together we can!

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