A meerkat conservation project established in 2008 to educate both farmers and tourists alike on the need for protection of these shy suricate’s has developed into a unique tourist attraction and South Africa’s first meerkat sanctuary, writes Des Langkilde.
I met Devey Glinister while doing a property review on De Zeekoe guest farm in Oudtshoorn (read the review here) after joining a tour group for a meerkat experience on the farm at sunrise.
Witnessing a clan of meerkat in the wild as they go about their daily routine would have been impossible due to their shy and elusive nature, were it not for Devey’s patience and perseverance in habituating this particular clan to the presence of humans over many years. Meerkats are part of the so-called ‘Shy 5’ which includes the bat-eared fox, the aardvark, porcupine and aardwolf.
The meerkat tour is well organised and includes coffee and rusks at a bush site, which forms part of De Zeekoe farm just off the R62 about seven kilometres from Oudtshoorn. Lightweight folding chairs are handed out to each guest as dawn approaches and the group are then lead a short distance away to the nearest meerkat burrow, where everyone settles down with their backs to the East and the pending sunrise.
As the sun breaches the horizon, the dominant female is the first to scurry out of the burrow, and after checking the terrain for threats she gives an all-clear signal to the rest of the gang who slowly arise from the burrow, yawning and stretching. Ignoring the group of human onlookers, the gang shuffle for space and all face the sun with stomachs bared to warm up.
Davey tells us that this is their ‘solar panel battery recharge’ routine, and that the gang won’t move off until they have all warmed up sufficiently.
While the group of onlookers shutter away with their cameras, Davey educates us on the meerkats habits and why meerkat should not be kept as pets, while one of his team takes photos of the tour group, which are later emailed to each guest.
After about half an hour of watching the meerkat grooming each other and the young playing, we folded our chairs and followed the gang as they set off to forage, and noticed how one meerkat would always be on sentry duty by positioning itself on a mound of sand, a shrub or a bush to keep a lookout for threats.
At the end of the tour, which took around three hours, I asked Davey what he hoped to achieve with the meerkat conservation project.
“Firstly we would like to build a meerkat sanctuary for all the meerkat orphans that were previously kept as pets and cannot be set free again. We hope with the right research in the right environment we’ll be able to rehabilitate and release. Secondly we would like to convert more landowners to make space on their farms for meerkats to live in their natural habitat,” said Devey.
For more information visit www.meerkatadventures.co.za or email firstname.lastname@example.org.