Slender-tailed meerkat, Suricate
Meerkats belong to the civet and mongoose family. Very small catlike carnivores, their faces often have a curious look, seemingly taking in everything in their surroundings. They have long bodies and short flat ears and are able to stand on their hind legs. The color of their coat can be gold, silver, brown, or orange, with dark patches around the eyes. They can dig their own bodyweight of dirt within a few seconds and their high endurance enables them to build elaborate tunnels. Their social cooperation within a large group and their extensively burrowed tunnels help them to survive in arid African deserts.
The meerkat has a wide distribution in southern Africa, from the extreme southwest of Angola, through Namibia and Botswana, and into the west and north South Africa. They live in areas with the stony, often calcareous ground in a variety of arid, open habitats with little woody vegetation. Meerkats are common in savannahs, open plains, and rocky areas beside dry rivers. They are absent from true desert but may occur in semi-desert regions.
The meerkat is like only three other mongoose species, in that it is highly sociable and inhabits territories in groups. A group usually has 10 to 30 individuals (although much larger ones are not uncommon where the food supply is plentiful) consisting of 3 or 4 family units with a male, female, and their young. Meerkats live in large burrow systems that are typically 5 m (16 ft) in diameter with around 15 openings; these large underground networks consist of 2 to 3 levels of tunnels. Once meerkats come out of their burrows in the early morning sun to sunbathe, most of them will go off to seek food while the others act as guards or babysit the young. By standing on their hind legs up on mounds and in bushes, the guards are able to have a good view of approaching predators, particularly those in the sky. They will use different alarm calls to alert the group to the danger, and often the whole group will dive into the burrow to hide.
Meerkats exhibit a monogamous mating system, meaning that the dominant male and female of each group are usually the only individuals to successfully breed. However, subordinate females very occasionally will reproduce, and subordinate males will temporarily leave the group to try to mate with females of other groups, which suggests polygynous behavior. The breeding season in the wild runs from October to April, whereas in captivity they breed year-round. Gestation lasts for 11 weeks, with 2 to 5 pups being born. The pups stay in their burrow for three weeks, ‘babysat’ by helpers. When they are four weeks old, the pups will begin to go with the group to forage, and for their first 49 to 63 days will be fed by the helpers, at the same time being taught how to get their own food. The young become independent enough to forage at around 12 weeks of age. This species becomes reproductively mature at about 1 year of age
At present, there are no significant threats to the meerkat.
According to the Natural History on the net resource, the total population size of the meerkat in the wild is around 500,000 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today remain stable.
Meerkats have an important role in the food web, providing food for the animals that are their natural predators (hawks, eagles, jackals). They eat many invertebrates, and so probably act as a control on these prey populations.