Wednesday, 7 March 2012

As they say in Italy: You padda da familia now eh?

Working with the meerkats is like courting a young lass; you need  to gently sidle up to them, ease into their life and treat them with a lot of respect, otherwise they’ll bolt into the sunset leaving you in a cloud of dust and having to start all over again the next day!  Meerkats have their own routines and nuances and up till now the Gosa gang have only really allowed us to get close to them when they’re around their burrow, after that they disappear into the long Kalahari grass to go foraging.

But we’ve broken into their inner circle. And we’re now padda da familia (part of the family)!! Amazingly, our positions went from ‘burrow stalkers’ to ‘fellow forager’ literally overnight and the Gosa gang allowed us, for the first time ever, to follow them for a FULL DAY and finally have a glimpse at their daily lives. The feeling was absolutely amazing! To walk with the meerkats as they foraged, played, groomed and slept is something one has to experience in their own right to really be able to explain it. It would probably be the same feeling of wonder if your cat had suddenly allowed you to come with it as it strolls through the neighbourhood and marks its territory on your neighbours couch.

Very quickly I noticed that our heavily pregnant alpha female Cleopatra does an EXCEPTIONAL amount of work! Even though her stomach is about as shiny and ripe as a prune in its prime! She is the first one to pop her head out of the burrow in the morning and often does sentry duty to look out for predators while the others forage. She also leads the Gosa gang to different foraging areas and commands respect from the others who duly give it to her. At around noon the entire group finds a nice shady spot to rest up and by this time the crew and I were exhausted. A combination of running around with meerkats and the Kalahari heat had totally finished us off and we too lay in the shade together with the Gosa group. Now I urge you to picture the scene; meerkats and men, nodding off in the shade together, out in the middle of the Kalahari. A unique 'Lion and the Lamb' moment that I will never forget.

Another interesting thing we noticed was that the group is almost in constant communication with each other. While resting, foraging or on sentry duty, you can clearly hear their prooooop prrrr prrroooop proooopp hmmmmmmm prrrrr prrrooop prrrrooops going on! Now, don’t laugh at us, but the crew also started imitating the sounds of the group. Yes, there we were, walking with the meerkats and prrrooop prooooping like the rest of them. It seemed to make them a little more relaxed which is really interesting. Maybe they just pitied us? Poor humans trying to speak an age old language like Meerkat, what ARE they thinking?
Well, at least we’re padda da familia now.

Rob’s song for the day: Scatterlings of Africa – Johnny Clegg

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Mudjie said...

Thank you for the update..What an honor to be pardda da familia! LOL

Lil_Earthwoman said...

OMG, congrats to the great success!!!! And imitating calls is not a bad deal, but please be keen to find out in which situation they do which call to not confuse them, it isn't all that easy though, don't do the prrrsss when they are on vigilance or predator alert, that could cause severe confusion. You should find a special unique habituation call, that only you do so that they know when you are around with that call everything is safe and okay (but as said, only doing when the everything is really safe, not when any special interactions perk up). They will get used to you but keep being shy to others, they're only habituated to you then.