Made famous by the iconic Disney character ‘Timon’ from the Lion King, Meerkats are one of the most loved and sought after animals in Africa!

What is a Meerkat?

A meerkat is a small mammal that belongs to the mongoose family. They are found in the Kalahari desert and surrounding areas of Southern Africa. Meerkats are incredible animals that amaze us with their unique characteristics and behaviour. They have adapted to survive in a harsh desert environment and are essential to the Kalahari ecosystem. They are intelligent, resourceful, and have a complex social structure. Understanding more about meerkats and their behaviour can help us appreciate and protect these amazing animals better.


What does a Meerkat look like?

Meerkats are small animals, typically around 30 centimetres in length, with a long tail that adds 10-20 centimetres to their overall body length. They have short fur that is usually yellowish-gray or white, and they have distinctive dark stripes along the sides of their bodies. Meerkats look like squirrels, but they have long, pointed snouts and large eyes that have black patches around them. They have dark claws and long legs, which help them to move quickly over the desert terrain. They stand upright on their hind legs, giving them a distinctive appearance. One fact about meerkats is that they are immune to venom from certain snakes, allowing them to hunt and eat these predators without any harm.

Meerkat family outside their den in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve
Meerkat family outside their den in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve | @nohorizonphotography


How do Meerkats behave in the wild?

Meerkats typically live in nomadic groups of 20 to 30 individuals. They are highly social animals and will cooperate to look for food, raise their young, and protect themselves from predators. They have a well-developed communication system, including vocalizations, body language, and scent marking. Meerkats are colonial animals, meaning they live in colonies and all work together for the benefit of the group. They share food, take turns watching for predators, and even groom one another. Meerkats are also fearless animals. They will stand up to larger predators such as jackals and eagles and use their sharp claws if necessary. They have an incredible ability to climb trees and other structures to access food or escape danger. They are also diurnal, meaning they are most active during day time and sleep at night.

What Do Meerkats Eat?

Meerkats are omnivores. They eat both plants and animals. They feed on insects, spiders, lizards, snakes, eggs, seeds, berries, and roots. They also occasionally hunt small mammals such as rodents. What makes meerkats interesting is that though they eat and live in desserts, meerkats don’t drink water. They get all the water they need from their food, which is why they need to find enough food to survive.

A Meerkat stands up in front of a golden, African sky
A Meerkat stands up in front of a golden, African sky | @silviariguincho

How Do Meerkats Hunt?

Meerkats hunt in groups, using a combination of tactics to locate food. They will form foraging lines and use their sharp eyesight to spot prey. Once the target has been spotted, the meerkats rush to capture it. They also use their distinct sense of smell to detect underground burrows, which they dig up to find food.

What is the Meerkats’ Social Lifelike?

Meerkats are incredibly social creatures and live in large groups known as “mobs” or “gangs.” These mobs have a well-defined hierarchy, with dominant males at the top and subordinate females at the bottom. The Meerkat’s social structure is highly organized and cooperative, with each individual taking on specific roles to ensure the group’s survival. Meerkats are also very loyal to their groups and will defend themselves against predators.

Meerkats on the look out
Meerkats on the look out | @bagatelle_kalahari

How Does the Meerkat Reproduce?

Meerkats mate for life and typically have one litter of pups per year. The male will choose his mate by following her and defending her from other males. The pups are born in an underground burrow, where they are nursed and cared for by the entire mob. The male is responsible for protecting the burrow and defending its occupants from predators, while the female takes on the primary task of caring for her young. Male meerkats often help the female care for her pups, and the entire mob will cooperate to look after them. Pups are born blind and deaf, but they quickly develop their senses and start to explore their surroundings within a few weeks. As they grow older, the pups will help with chores such as babysitting younger siblings or guarding the territory.

A litter of meerkat pups playing in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve
A litter of meerkat pups playing in Tswalu Kalahari Reserve | @marcuswestbergphotography

Do Meerkats fight?

Meerkats are known for their courage and will defend their territory aggressively if necessary. They will fight with other meerkats, as well as larger predators. They are also known to fight with their kind, though this is usually in play, fighting or squabbling over resources. To reduce aggression within their mob, meerkats will use several methods of communication, such as vocalizations and scent marking. This helps to create a more peaceful environment for the group as a whole. Fights are usually brief but can be pretty violent as the meerkats attempt to assert their dominance over one another.

Range and Habitat

Where to find Meerkats in Africa?

Meerkats are found throughout the arid regions of Southern Africa, primarily in the Kalahari Desert. Others are located in the Namib Desert and, further south, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province.

Meerkats live in open, dry areas with sparse vegetation. They dig extensive burrows stretching up to 6ft deep and include several chambers for sleeping, storage, and raising young. Meerkats usually den in sandy soils that are easy to dig and provide some insulation from extreme temperatures. They also prefer areas with plenty of rocks and boulders that can be used as lookout points.

Aside from Africa, meerkats can be found in zoos around the world. They are popularly kept as pets in some parts of the UK and other countries.

Meerkat pups posing perfectly for the camera
Meerkat pups posing perfectly for the camera | @lucienbeaumont


Meerkats are currently listed as the least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, their populations have been declining due to habitat loss and human persecution. Conservation efforts are underway to protect meerkat habitats and ensure their long-term survival in the wild.

Threats to Meerkats

The main threat to meerkats is habitat loss and fragmentation due to human activities such as agricultural development and urbanization. In addition, meerkats face persecution from humans who view them as pests or a threat to livestock. Climate change is also affecting meerkat populations, as rising temperatures and droughts reduce the availability of food and water sources.

This is why it is so important that we take steps to protect meerkats and their habitats to ensure their long-term survival in the wild. Conservation efforts like habitat restoration projects and protected areas are essential for protecting these amazing animals. We can also help by reducing our impact on the environment and supporting organizations that are working to safeguard meerkats.

A lone meerkat stands on its hind legs as it scans the surrounding area
A lone meerkat stands on its hind legs as it scans the surrounding area | @nohorizonphotography

Can you keep meerkats as pets?

Although meerkats are sometimes kept as pets, it is not recommended due to the specialized care they require and the potential danger they pose to humans. Meerkats are wild animals and should be left in their natural habitats where they can live safe and healthy lives.

If someone is determined to keep a meerkat as a pet, they should research the species and consult a veterinarian for advice. They should also provide the animal ample exercise space and enrichment activities to keep it stimulated.


Where is the best place to spot a meerkat on safari?

The best safaris to spot a meerkat are those in the Kalahari Desert, where meerkats can be found in large numbers. If you’re looking for a guided tour, then the Makgadikgadi Pans and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are great places to start. Here, you can take a guided tour with experienced guides that can show you the best spots to spot meerkats in their natural habitat. In addition, private game reserves like Madikwe Game Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park are also great places to observe meerkats in their natural environment. Here, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with these fascinating creatures! Also, the Etosha National Park in Namibia is a great place to watch meerkats.

Tips for spotting the Meerkat on safari

If you are on safari and planning to spot a Meerkat, here are some tips that you can use:

  1. Plan your trip at the right time of year. It is best to go during the dry season when water sources are scarce and meerkats come out in search of food.
  2. Keep an eye out for areas with plenty of rocks or boulders, as meerkats often use these as lookout points.
  3. Be patient and look carefully; meerkats are tiny and well-camouflaged in their natural environment, so it might take some time to spot them!

Please note using binoculars or a spotting scope to better look at meerkats in their natural habitat. With patience and luck, you’re sure to spot these amazing animals on your safari!

People interacting with Meerkats while on safari in Botswana
People interacting with Meerkats while on safari in Botswana | @naturalselectiontravel

Tips for Interacting with Meerkats

On safari, it’s important to remember that meerkats are wild animals and should not be approached or disturbed while on a safari. If you see a meerkat, keep your distance and observe from afar. Never attempt to feed or touch a meerkat, as this can cause them undue stress and lead to aggressive behavior. Finally, follow all safari rules and regulations when interacting with meerkats. This will ensure both their safety and your own!

If You Find an Orphaned Meerkat

What should you do if you find an orphaned meerkat? If you find an orphaned meerkat, it is essential to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. These professionals are trained to properly care for the animal and have the necessary permits to handle wild animals legally. They will be able to assess the situation and provide the Meerkat with the best care possible. It is important to note that meerkats are a protected species, and any attempts to keep them as pets or in captivity are prohibited. By understanding the threats faced by meerkats and taking steps to protect their habitats, we can ensure the long-term survival of these amazing animals in the wild.

Facts about Meerkats

  • Scientific name – Suricata suricatta
  • Habitat – Meerkats live in the deserts, grasslands, and savannas of southern Africa
  • Diet – They are omnivorous, eating insects, small mammals, lizards, birds, fruits, and roots.
  • Life Expectancy – They typically live for about 12-14 years in the wild
  • Weight – Adult meerkats typically weigh between 0.8 to 1.2 kg (1.7 to 2.6 pounds)
  • Length – Meerkats range in size from 20 to 25 cm (7.9 – 9.8 in) long, not including the tail, which is usually around 15 cm long.
  • Speed – They can run up to 24 km/h (15 mph)
  • Social Behaviour – Meerkats are incredibly social animals, living in groups of 10 to 30 individuals.
A pair of baby meerkats playing in the Kalahari sand
A pair of baby meerkats playing in the Kalahari sand | @marcuswestbergphotography

Myths about Meerkats

Contrary to popular belief, meerkats do not hibernate or sleep in packs. They are active during day time and sleep during the night in their dens. Also, meerkats often use their tails as a “third hand” when gathering food or building nests, but they don’t have an actual third hand. Finally, meerkats are not immune to the elements like some people think – they can still be affected by extreme temperatures, drought, and other environmental factors.


The Meerkat is a small, social mammal found in southern Africa’s deserts, grasslands, and savannas. They are fascinating animals that can be spotted on safari. You may even get the chance to observe them in their natural environment. These fascinating creatures are known for their intelligence and social behaviour and make great subjects for observation on safari. It is important to remember not to disturb these wild creatures and to follow all safari rules when interacting with meerkats. Finally, it is also essential to learn some facts and dispel myths about meerkats to better understand and appreciate these amazing animals. With the help of responsible conservation efforts, we can ensure the long-term survival of meerkats in the wild.