Did you know?
Meerkats consider scorpions especially delicious, and quickly learn to disarm the sting.
Hester Steynberg of the Ganora Guest Farm near Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo had no idea she had a knack for meerkat rehabilitation until she was asked to nurse an injured one back to life in 1990.
People around the town and Graaff-Reinet got to hear that Hester was something of a meerkat whisperer. And then a gentle trickle of these charming suricates began to arrive on her doorstep.
Many had been ‘kidnapped’ as babies to be pets. But endearing as they undoubtedly are, meerkats are not really good candidates for a life only with humans.
They need the company of their own kind, and when they hit puberty, they often start biting their human minders or visitors. A meerkat’s very particular diet means it can suffer easily from dehydration.
Hester rehabilitates these ‘pets’, orphans and injured meerkats, feeding them while teaching them how to hunt for juicy grubs and beetles that are their normal diet.
One of Hester’s dogs even became a foster meerkat mom of an orphaned baby meerkat. That same meerkat, once it had grown up, became the matriarch of a large suricate tribe that is still thriving in the veld on Ganora farm.
Hester is so trusted by the meerkats that they sometimes delegate her as sentry, or use her shoulder as a lookout point.
Once she has enough wilded meerkats that have bonded to form a cohesive colony, she releases them to a safe place on the farm.
Ganora Guest Farm is probably better known for its extraordinary fossils and its tranquility than as a meerkat animal sanctuary. But there are often a few around and if you’re lucky, you may get fairly close to meerkats that used to be pets and so are used to humans. Wild meerkats in training, that is.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Ganora Guest Farm
Tel: +27 (0)49 841 1302
Cell: +27 (0)82 698 0029
How to get here
The closest airport is in Port Elizabeth. From there, take the N10 route north to Cradock, about 250km or three hours' drive away. Just north of Cradock you'll find the R61 to Graaff-Reinet. Drive for about 90km to the T-junction with the N9. Turn right and then almost immediately left onto the road to Nieu Bethesda. This is a good dirt road, but take it slow. Just before you get to Nieu Bethesda, you'll see the sign to Ganora on your left.
Around the area
Nieu Bethesda is famous for the Owl House, but you should also visit the lovely restaurants, walk the quiet streets and dip your feet in the clear water furrows.
Tours to do
JP Steynburg takes guests on an excellent tour of the fossils on the farm. Some are still in situ, others are displayed in an excellent museum. There is also a wool museum, intriguing rock etchings from the South African War, and ancient rock art.
Length of stay
At least two nights, if not more. There is plenty more to do apart from watching meerkats.
Where to stay
Ganora has superb accommodation, but there are many places to stay in the nearby town of Nieu Bethesda.
What to eat
Dinners at Ganora are the stuff of legend. Karoo lamb is often on the menu (since this is a sheep farm) and you'll soon realise why it's considered the finest in the world.