Sunday, 11 March 2012

Gosa gang politics


Over the past few weeks we’ve been walking with the meerkats and learning their mannerisms and individual characters. But all is not as smooth as it seems, and like any community in nature the Meerkat groups also undergo shifts and splits.

Let’s quickly focus on the neighbours of the Gosa gang who are known as the Jaco (pronounced Yuk-oo) Dune group. They lost one pup to a rock monitor and the group vanished the next day. For 10 days they disappeared, more than likely to a burrow site which no-one knows about, until they re-appeared this morning at their main burrow. What they did, why they did it, no one knows. But they lost another pup over that period and their alpha female is now down to 2 pups. We don’t know much about the Jaco Dune group, but we expect that Cleopatra and Gandalf are well aware of them as they often strongly scent-mark in the areas bordering the two territories.

Now we turn to the Gosa gang. Well where should I start? With Solo the female who was kicked out a few weeks ago? With Delilah who we suspect is pregnant? Or with the daily split in the group during foraging times? Well I guess let’s start at the very beginning.

Solo has been on her own for some weeks now, and is doing surprisingly well. She is not used to us as yet and so we’ve only had fleeting shots of her entering and leaving other burrows away from the main group. A few days ago she tried to come into the Camelthorn burrow where the Gosa gang were settling down for the night. Cleopatra immediately followed her into the burrow and both were underground for a few minutes. Suddenly, Solo flew out of the burrow and dashed off into bush at top speed. Cleopatra calmly came out a second or two later, covered in dirt and sporting a ruffled coat. The two had obviously had a small scuffle down below with Cleopatra reasserting her dominance and refusing to allow Solo back into the group. We haven’t seen solo since then.

Why why why Delilah! Her and her other two companions, a male and female we have yet to properly identify, slept at Sour grass burrow while the rest of the group slept at Camelthorn burrow. Why? Who knows. Yet the following night the entire group all slept at Camelthorn again? Is there perhaps a split happening here? That Delilah would risk splitting off from the Gosa gang together with another two members to ensure her pups’ safety is not impossible, but it is a risky move and not one that has not often been recorded. We shall have to wait and see how this plays out.

 While we stick with the theme of the group splitting up, we have noticed from the very beginning that the Gasa gang almost always split into two groups when they go foraging. Not a very smart move as they OBVIOUSLY did not read Chapter 3 in the Meerkats for Dummies Handbook: There is safety in numbers. It is more advantageous for a group to stick together while foraging as the group benefits from having more ‘eyes on the skies’ to detect predators. Splitting the group lessens this factor and also allows for predators to more easily focus on a single individual than to try single out its next potential meal from a larger group; a larger group of meerkats diving for cover will more easily confuse a predator than just two or three doing the same thing. And yet every morning Cleopatra, Gandalf, Starsky and two others head off in one direction, and the rest head off in another direction a few minutes later.  This split could be for a number of reasons, but this and the Delilah issue have one common denominator; Cleopatra. By meerkat standards she is a young Alpha female and although she does assert her dominance with individuals such as Solo, her leadership skills need a lot of work. As Alpha female she is responsible for the group, and a group that works together under one leader is inherently stronger and safer than one that splits when foraging or sleeps in separate burrows on occasion. Now I’m not saying this is abnormal or self-destructive, it could very well be just a phase and things may level out in the next few weeks. But if they don’t, we have an exceptional story on our hands, and we will watch and learn as it plays out before our very eyes.

All things said and done, Cleopatra is doing an exceptional job and I will watch this little Queen rise and rise again with great anticipation.

Rob’s song for the day: The Cave – Mumford and Sons

Keep smiling
Rob

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