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Meerkats from Meerkat Manor

The meerkat or suricate (Suricata suricatta) is a small carnivoran belonging to the mongoose family (Herpestidae). It is the only member of the genus Suricata. Meerkats live in all parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, in much of the Namib Desert in Namibia and southwestern Angola, and in South Africa. A group of meerkats is called a "mob", "gang" or "clan". A meerkat clan often contains about 20 meerkats, but some super-families have 50 or more members. In captivity, meerkats have an average life span of 12–14 years, and about half this in the wild. They often stand on their rear legs and gaze alertly over the southern African plains. Mothers can even nurse their young while standing.

Meerkats (also called suricates) work together in numbers. A few will typically serve as lookouts, watching the skies for birds of prey, such as hawks and eagles, that can snatch them from the ground. A sharp, shrill call is the signal for all to take cover. While a few individuals guard the group, the rest busy themselves foraging for the foods that make up their varied diet. Meerkats will eat insects, lizards, birds, and fruit. When hunting small game, they work together and communicate with purring sounds. Meerkats are good hunters and are sometimes tamed for use as rodent-catchers.

Meerkats are small burrowing animals, living in large underground networks with multiple entrances which they leave only during the day, except to avoid the heat of the afternoon. They are very social, living in colonies. Animals in the same group groom each other regularly. The alpha pair often scent-mark subordinates of the group to express their authority. There may be up to 30 meerkats in a group. Meerkat groups utilize several different burrows and move from one to another. Each burrow is an extensive tunnel-and-room system that remains cool even under the broiling African sun. Females give birth to two to four young each year in one of the group's burrows. Fathers and siblings help to raise meerkat young, teaching them to play and forage and alerting them to the ever present danger from above. Young meerkats are so fearful of predatory birds that even airplanes will send them diving for cover.

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