Meerkat / Suricata suricatta

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Meerkats use at least 10 vocalisations including an alarm bark and threatening growl

In South Africa, meerkats are often kept to kill rats and mice around homes

A meerkat can dig through a quantity of sand equal to its own weight in just seconds

The meerkat or slender-tailed suricate is a member of the mongoose family native to Southern Africa

Meerkats live in large social groups of around 20 individuals – it can be 50-plus – and are known as a mob, gang or clan.

They live within a large underground network of burrows with multiple entrances which they leave only during the day.

The group has a dominant alpha male and female. It is normally only the alpha male and female who will produce pups.

The alpha female will kill any pups which are not her own. The gestation period is around 77 days the female usually gives birth, underground, to 1-5 pups. The other females will help raise the pups. They open their eyes at 10–14 days, but will not leave the burrow until they are around one month old.

Meerkats are mainly insectivores (insect feeders), but will also eat millipedes and centipedes, lizards, snakes, eggs, small mammals and more rarely, small birds. They are able to feed on scorpions as they are immune to certain types of venom.

Meerkats forage for food in a group with one sentry on guard watching for predators.

Sentry duty is usually approximately an hour long. On sensing danger the sentry utters an alarm bark which sends the group scampering underground.

When a colony has exhausted the nearby food available, it will excavate a new burrow 1-2 km away.