I have been fortunate to travel to Africa three times over the past two years, and every time I do I have another amazing experience. This last trip in June 2017 was no different...
We flew to Maun in Botswana where we were met and taken 200km east to Planet Baobab. Planet Baobab is an interesting place in itself with the amazingly old Baobab trees scattered around and throughout the unique accommodation.
The morning of our visit to the meerkats we departed Planet Boabab at about 5.30am. The weather was cold, and an hour and a half on the back of a safari vehicle was not an easy trip out to the Ntwetwe Pan. The warmth of sunrise was welcomed by those on the back, but I was lucky enough to be in the ute.
The meerkats start to come out of their burrows as the morning sun warms the earth. When we arrived, we saw one meerkat was up outside the burrow. We were greeted by the local farmer, who acts as the caretaker of the meerkats, and who is ultimately responsible for them becoming so habituated. The farmer is there every morning when the meerkats come out of the burrow, and every evening when they go to bed for the night. Three of us were taken over towards a burrow where the meerkat was standing, and the farmer laid a poncho on the dirt and we were instructed to quietly sit down and put our legs out in front of us.
We got ourselves into position and not long after meerkats started sticking their heads out the burrow. The meerkats saw us as part of their environment because we were there as they come out the burrow. The meerkats didn’t see us as a threat thanks to the farmer who is there daily. They started to come out one by one, looking around and checking their surroundings. Some came out and did some digging around the entrance of the burrow, perhaps a little house keeping, and as more come out they ventured onto Tanya’s legs. They started by sitting on Tanya, then tried digging on Tanya’s trousers, and some little ones were hugging each other to keep warm. We couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to have such an amazing and close encounter.
The meerkats were with the three of us for about 4-5 minutes before they started moving about and they went closer to some of the rest of our group who were sitting on ponchos near other burrow entrances. After about 20 minutes the meerkats started to move out of the area, off to feed for the day, but never too far away from the other burrows they have in the area which they use for protection. Meerkats have great eyesight and if they spot a bird of prey they will shoot into a nearby burrow.
The family we visited originally had as many as 18 members, but was decimated by a python that ate all but eight of the meerkats! They have since increased their numbers to eleven but I can only imagine how devastated the local farmer had felt when he came to the burrow to find half the family gone, and no doubt a big fat python!