South African Meerkat
Meerkats are small carnivores measuring 25 - 35cm (10 - 14in). They live in large hiararchical social groups often consisting of 20 - 40 individuals within a large system of burrows. They can practically disappear before your eyes - with long, strong front feet they can shift their own weight in sand in just a few seconds, closing their ears to keep out flying sand. Childcare is a shared responsibility and suckiling may be carried out by 'helpers' as well as mothers. Meerkats will also work together to defend the burrow; sentries watch for danger, selecting high ground where they will often stand upright, supported by their tales. The whole foraging party will take it in turns to keep a look out, keeping watch for birds of prey and other predators by standing up while the rest of the colony forages and digs for invertebrates in the sand with eyes and noses down. A shrill bark will warn the colony if a possible threat is perceived at which they will scatter and diasappear down into the burrows. Usually only the dominant female, or matriarch, is allowed to give birth, subordinate females looking after pups while the colony forage for food. Diet consists of insects, small reptiles and rodents. Scorpions may also be tackled. The colony coexists together in every way from defense to grooming, and law and order. Meerkats can be very strict when disciplining members of the colony and will 'mob' any members of rival colonies that stray into their territory.