The MEERKAT or SURICATA is a small mammal, belonging to the ‘mongoose’ family. They live in all parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, in much of the Namib Desert in Namibia, in South-Western Angola and in South Africa. A group of MEERKATS is called a ‘MOB’, ‘GANG’ or ‘CLAN’. A MEERKAT CLAN, often contains about 20 Meerkats, but some superior families have 50 or more members. In captivity, Meerkats have an average life-span of 12-14years and about half this, in the wild.
MEERKAT is a ‘loan-word’ from Afrikaans. The name has a Dutch origin, but, by misidentification. DUTCH MEERKATS refer to the GUENON, a monkey of the CERCOPITHECUS GENUS. The word MEERKAT is Dutch for ‘Lake Cat’, but it is not of the ‘cat family’. Neither the MEERKATS nor the GUENONS are attracted to lakes. The word, possibly started, as a Dutch adaption of a derivative of Sanskrit MARKATA = monkey, perhaps in Africa, via an Indian sailor on board a Dutch East India Company Ship. The SURICATA is called STOKSTAARTJE = little stick-tail, in Dutch.
The MEERKAT is small and weighs about 731 gms, for males and 720 gms for females. Its long slender body and libs, give it a body-length of 25-35cms and an added tail-length of 17-25cms. Its tail is not bushy, like other mongoose species, but is rather long and thin, and tapers to a black or reddish-coloured pointed tip. It uses its tail to balance, when standing upright. Its face tapers, coming to a point at the nose, which is brown. The eyes, always, have black patches around them. They have small black crescent-shaped ears, that can close to exclude soil when digging. Like cats, MEERKATS have BINOCULAR VISION, a large peripheral range, depth-perception and eyes on the front of their faces. They have 4 toes, on each foot, and non-retractable, strong curved ‘CLAWS’, used for digging burrows. The coat is, usually, fawn-coloured, peppered with grey, tan or brown, with a silver tint. It has a ‘PATCH’ on its belly, which is sparsely covered with hair. It uses this area to absorb heat, while standing on its rear legs, usually, in the morning after cold desert nights. They are, primarily, INSECTIVORES, but also eat lizards, snakes, eggs, fungi, centipedes and scorpions. They are immune to certain types of VENOM, including the very strong VENOM of the SCORPIONS, of the Kalahari Desert, unlike humans. They have no excess body-fat-stores, so foraging for food is a daily need. The older members of the group act as ‘PUP TUTORS’ to the baby MEERKAT. The MEERKAT, standing guard, makes PEEPING SOUNDS —-when all is well. If it spots danger ——it BARKS LOUDLY or WHISTLES.