Meerkat, Slender-Tailed


ORDER: Carnivora

FAMILY: Viverridae

GENUS: Suricata

SPECIES: suricatta

DESCRIPTION:
Average weight 720-730 gm (1.6 lb.); head and body length is 26-28 cm (10-11 in); tail length is 22 cm (8 in). Slender build with long thin legs, 4 toes with long claws; thin, pointed tail; pointed face with small crescent-shaped ears. Long, soft coat grizzled gray or tan with buff to yellowish underparts. Head is almost white. Black eye patches, ears, feet, and tail tip and dark transverse banding on back. Anal scent glands are present. Females have six mammae.

GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
Dry open country in southwestern Angola, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa.

DIET:
Insectivorous diggers, concentrating on beetle larvae, pupae and larvae of moths, butterflies, and flies, and termites, crickets, spiders, scorpions, and other invertebrates that are buried or hidden. Occasionally they eat lizards, small snakes, birds, eggs, and mice. In waterless areas they may obtain water by chewing tsama melons and digging up roots and tubers.

LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
Diurnal, highly gregarious, territorial. Reproduction is not monopolized by an alpha pair; a pack may have several breeding females and males. Pack size ranges from a few up to 30 with the normal being 10-15 individuals. No linear rank hierarchy has been noted; rather the pack members seem amicable with each other and ferociously hostile to other packs. A home range typically includes five warrens spaced 100 meters apart, which are occupied in rotation for months at a time. The average warren is five meters with 15 entrances, but warrens range from a simple burrow with a few holes to a labyrinth 30 meters across with 90 entrances. The pack emerges well after sunrise, sunbathing and social grooming until they decide to move out for systematic and thorough foraging. Visual and vocal contact is maintained among members as they spread out and forage individually. While foraging, at least one member is standing on hind legs or perched in a bush or tree and scanning the skies and land for predators (Turns at sentry duty can last over an hour without relief). Members band together in a large hissing, stiff-jumping mass to intimidate larger predators such as jackals or rival clans of meerkats. Nearly all young are born during the warmer, rainier part of the year. Females usually have one litter per season, averaging 4 pups per litter. Gestation is 11 weeks and young are weaned at 6-9 weeks. Non breeding helpers of both sexes baby-sit young while mother forages to sustain an adequate milk supply and all clan adults will protect and share food with young and will teach them to hunt and forage. Sexual maturity is attained at 1 year of age. Life span in captivity over 12 years.

SPECIAL ADAPTATIONS:
Suricates use their phenomenal sense of smell to locate concealed prey, then dig it out with their long-clawed forefeet. The pointed snout is thrust into the narrow trenches it excavates to grasp beetle larvae and the like. They have sharp canines and broad molar teeth with sharp cusps for their insect diet. They are apparently immune to scorpion venom. The black coloration around their eyes helps protect against the constant glare of the sun.

INTERPRETIVE INFORMATION:
A meerkat is not a cat, but is a suricate, a member of the mongoose family. (The name meerkat is the general Afrikaans term for mongoose.) Although they sometimes sit up like prairie dogs they are no relation. When stiffly sitting or standing in the exhibit, they are not begging, but are scanning for danger. Vocal communication consists of: murmuring (any activity); growling and spitting (offensive threat); clucking (scolding); peeping (guard's assurance that he's on duty); a clear drawn-out call (avian predators);waauk-waauk, a gruff warning call (ground predators); alarm bark(defiance); and a soft wurruck-wurruck (contentment).

OUR ANIMALS:
We currently have 2 males and 11 females.

STATUS IN WILD:
Not endangered.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Estes, Richard. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. 1991. University of California Press, pp. 318-322.
  2. Macdonald, David. "Meerkats", The Smithsonian. April, 1984, pp. 55-64.
  3. Nowak, Ronald. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Vol. 2. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD pp. 1175-6.
  4. Nowak, Ronald. 1997. Walker's Mammals of the World. Online, Johns Hopkins University Press, Internet.
  5. Wood, Frances. "There is One Meerkat Missing", Zoonooz, March, 1994.

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