Meerkat is an African mammal. It belongs to the family of mongoose. It is a small animal of about 30 cm long with a weight around one kilogram. Meerkat is mostly found in the desert and semi desert regions of southern Africa including Angola, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Meerkats are social animals and live in large groups. These groups are called mobs or gangs. The size of the group varies from 15-50. The group may comprise of several family groups, but need not be related. They work as a team to forage for food and care for their young. All members share the tasks like collecting food and watching for predators. The young ones are jointly reared by all the group members. They share the tasks of babysitting, feeding the young ones, guiding them on forage trips and teaching them the basic lessons of hunting.
They live in burrows dug by them or abandoned by other animals. They are good diggers. Their burrows have many tunnels and rooms and are designed to remain cool even in the blazing desert sun. The tunnels are more than six feet in depth with as many as fifteen entrances and exits. They emerge from the burrows in early morning, warm themselves in the morning, and spend the day foraging for food. During their hunt, one member acts as a sentry for the group. They sentry stands at a good vantage point and keeps a watch for predators such as jackals, snakes and eagles. It alerts the group to potential danger by emitting sharp, shrill call.
Meerkats are extrovert and quite chatty. A unique feature of the meerkat is its upright pose. It stands straight and stiff on its hind legs while looking around. The young ones are really afraid of birds. They use a paste of secretions as scent markers of their territory. Though cute in looking, they are vicious fighters and even sacrifice life for fight over territories. They normally prefer to avoid fighting by threatening each other through aggressive postures.
Meerkats feed on insects, grubs, bird eggs, small reptiles, roots and fruit. They even kill and eat snakes and scorpions. They are immune to snake venom and scorpion venom to certain extent and hence attack them without being hurt. They drink very little water and their fluid requirements are met from their food. During sleeping they pile on top of each other.