26 January 2012, 10:01 am
Devey works on the guest farm De Zeekoe, just outside Oudtshoorn. This is the only site in South Africa where you can do an exclusive two to three hour tour with wild meerkats.
Carte Blanche recently broadcast an insert on Devey and the meerkats. The meerkats also recently made news when one of the females gave birth to eight pups.
According to Devey this might be a world record as he is only aware of documentation recording five babies to the same mother.
The meerkat tours start before sunrise, says Devey. Visitors meet him at a prearranged spot and time, drink a cup of coffee and then take a short hike to the current burrows. There everybody can sit down and observe how wild meerkats wake up.
No children under 10 is allowed as visitors have to sit very quietly in order not to scare the meerkats. Pictures may be taken with Devey's permission to do so.
More about meerkats
Meerkats are social animals living in big family groups. The size of the group will depend on the terrain and the availability of food. Meerkats are mammals and they breastfeed.
Only the dominant male and female are allowed to mate and have offspring, but in extreme cases where a small group needs to build up their numbers, a subordinate daughter might be allowed to raise her young within the group.
All male offspring are banned from the group when they reach sexual maturity at the age of approximately one year. All females can stay with the family and help raise their mother's offspring. They usually stay with the family till they decide to start their own family or they are banned from the group for breaking the rules.
Meerkats stay in a network of underground burrows which they take over from mongoose or dig at the base of an east facing slope. These burrows are holes leading into underground chambers up to 2,5 meters deep were the meerkats sleep together for heat.
Meerkats rarely come out of the burrows when it is raining. In good weather they will come out of the burrows approximately 15 to 20 min after sunrise. If it is really cold it can take up to an hour before they emerge.
The dominant female will almost always be the first one to emerge from the burrow. Only when the dominant female is in the last quarter of her pregnancy, one of the subordinate females will come out first to observe for any danger before they allow the others to emerge. They would then heat up by exposing their "solar panels" (a patch of black skin under the fur on their tummies) to the sun. When they have heated up enough they will start grooming each other or playing and wrestling.
All the above takes place within the first two hours after sunrise. Then all of a sudden the domi-nant male would start making a "eh...eh...eh...eh" sound and they will set off.
As they move off to forage one meerkat will find a mount of sand, a shrub or bush or any object that is higher than the surrounding area and standing on its hind legs he/she would look out for any predators on land or in the sky.
The sentry will stay on duty till another meerkat finds a perch further ahead at which time he/she would get down from the lookout point and follow the others while they forage.
This goes on for the rest of the day, except when they would take time for a siesta where one meerkat will always stay on sentry duty.
Depending on the availability of food they can travel up to 3 km a day to find food.
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