Wake up with meerkats
Meerkat encounters, Oudtshoorn
Meerkat encounters near Oudtshoorn, Route 62.
© Chris Marais
Just outside the Little Karoo town of Oudtshoorn in the southern Cape is a place where you can experience a meerkat encounter with a wild (but habituated) colony. It’s the perfect way of meeting these charismatic suricates in their natural habitat. And then there’s the whole of Route 62 to explore.
Did you know?
The meerkat troop at De Zeekoe inhabits a burrow system thought to be centuries old.
There is something magical about watching a meerkat greet a new day.
Go out before sunrise with Devey Glinister on De Zeekoe guest farm outside Oudtshoorn on the Route 62, and you’ll encounter meerkats in a non-invasive way, and will gain a real insight into their lives, within their natural habitat.
Meerkats hate the cold, so they’re only up once sunlight hits their burrow. By then, you’ll be seated on portable chairs in a semi-circle, and Glinister will have given you a full rundown on meerkats and their intriguing lives.
Actually, only 1 meerkat will come up initially – the sentinel. She’ll face the sun, arms at her side, absorbing heat through her ‘solar panel’ – the dark patch on her belly.
You’ll see her head swivelling, her dark eyes moving ceaselessly back and forth. She will study the people, then the surrounding bush, then gaze at the skies, on the lookout for the meerkats’ most-feared foes – birds of prey.
Then, 1 at a time, she will be joined by the others, and as sentinel she’ll give a quiet, regular chirrup, reassuring them that all is well. Zoologists call it the 'Watchman’s Song'.
They will all line up to greet the sun and warm up. Glinister will tell you that meerkats don’t have much fat at all, so they rely on the sun to rev up their metabolisms, somewhat like reptiles.
This colony of a dozen or so meerkats at De Zeekoe is habituated to humans. So while they won’t necessarily scamper up to you, they won’t run for the hills either, as a normal wild troop would.
After the warm-up, some of the younger meerkats will start to play. The adults will start digging here and there for grubs, and the meerkats will disperse into a loose group (still guarded by the sentinel, still incessantly scanning the horizons and skies).
And you'll follow them for a small while, learning something about a day in the life of a meerkat troop.
When it's time to go, you'll leave them to their mad scrabbling and insect hunts; and soon they’ll be all but invisible behind the short Karoo shrubs.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
The closest airport to Oudtshoorn is George, about 65km away. (George is in the centre of the Garden Route). From George take the N12 north over the spectacular Outeniqua mountain pass. Depending on photographic stops, it will take you under an hour to get to Oudtshoorn. Alternatively, if you’re coming from Cape Town, it is about a 5-hour drive along the R62. From Port Elizabeth, it’s also just over 5 hours’ drive. Take the N2 westwards and at George, take the N12 north. De Zeekoe is only 8km from the western edge of Oudtshoorn, along the R328 to Mossel Bay. You’ll be instructed about where to rendezvous with Devey Glinister in the early morning.
Around the area
Some of the most popular attractions around Oudtshoorn include the famous Cango Caves, the Cango Wildlife Ranch and of course, ostrich farms.
Tours to do
If you’re staying at De Zeekoe, you can go on a tour of the farm, towed by a 1958 tractor, or on the back of a horse.
Once you’ve parked your car near the meerkat colony, Devey Glinister will guide you on a short walk to the burrow where they are.
What will it cost
If you’re staying at De Zeekoe guest farm, it will cost approx. R450 per person for the tour. If you’re staying elsewhere, the tour will cost approx R550. This includes coffee and rusks and you’ll be sent images of yourself with meerkats in the foreground, taken by Devey.
Length of stay
The meerkat experience lasts about 3 hours. But there’s so much to do around Oudtshoorn you could easily spend 2 or 3 nights here. Also, if the weather is inclement, you may miss the meerkats on the 1st morning. We recommend you stay for 2 days.
What to pack
In summer (October to March), bring a hat. In winter (April to September) bring your warmest gear, including beanies, gloves and warm socks. Don’t forget your camera.
Where to stay
De Zeekoe has excellent accommodation varying from luxurious to comfortable. Alternately, Oudtshoorn has many options.
What to eat
When in Oudtshoorn, try eating ostrich meat, which is lean and tasty.
Oudtshoorn hosts the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, a cultural festival celebrating the Afrikaans language, every year in March.
Ostrich meat, ostrich biltong, ostrich feathers, ostrich feather-dusters, and ostrich egg shells (decorated and plain).