Did you know?
Each meerkat in the project is given its own unique ID code and name which it keeps throughout its life.
Between the sand dunes and acacia bushveld of the Kuruman River Reserve in the beautiful and desolate Northern Cape province is the Kalahari Meerkat Project.
The project has been running since 1993 and a team of international researchers is studying 18 wild meerkat groups here. 14 of the meerkat groups have been habituated to humans to facilitate the research; the other 4 are still a work in progress.
Habituated meerkats are comfortable around humans but they remain wild. Experiencing the meerkats in this setting is as close to nature as it gets.
Project Manager of the Kalahari Meerkat Project, Dr Dave Gaynor, says the project has continued for so long because they keep discovering new aspects about the meerkats. ‘A recent study showed that meerkats adopt strict traditions regarding the time they surface from the burrow in the morning,’ he says. ‘Some groups are lazier than others and if an individual from an early rising group migrates to a late rising or “lazy” group, that individual adopts their laissez faire approach.’
Day visitors (on Sundays only) are accompanied by a researcher to one of the meerkat burrows where they wait for the meerkats to awaken and emerge. The researchers tell them all about the meerkats and guests experience the meerkats being weighed and checked to see, for example, if there are any pregnancies.
‘This is the best time to view the meerkats as they are normally very playful and mischievous!’ says Samson.
All visitors to the project express their amazement at the way in which the meerkats behave in their presence: either ignoring them or staring at them or even climbing onto them. They don’t regard humans as dangerous, nor do they regard them as food or mates; as far as the meerkats are concerned, humans are 'just there'.
For those wanting to spend longer with the meerkats, the project has an Earthwatcher programme where you can stay at the site for two weeks. During your stay you go out to the meerkat groups with the project researchers and research volunteers.