Babysitting a Young Meerkat
Kalahari, Namibia, 2009-11-18 12:00 by Laerke and Martin
We are now in Upington in South Africa on the edge of the Kalahari. Our assault on the Kalahari started in South-Eastern Namibia – so this is going to be a cross-borders-blog-entry! Or as they would say here in South Africa, Trans-Frontier, they love their Trans-Frontier national parks which stretch over the borders with neighboring countries and allow wildlife to roam across the borders at will. This is all very lovely – for the animals at least, but a bit annoying when you spend 3 days in the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier National Park and see very few animals – because they have all gone to Botswana! But we can’t really complain I think, as we did see lions every day, even the black manned ones so famous in this area, and he really was a sight! So majestic and handsome.

The low concentration of wildlife also gave us an opportunity to dwell more on the small things; we loved our encounters with the naughty squirrels, an elegant yellow mongoose, a tree filled with owls and a Cape fox with three cubs – the cutest thing ever!!! The scenery in the park is also worth going for alone with the low red dunes and a beautiful blue sky.

The highlight of the Kalahari however, came outside the park. A retired English professor of desert ecology and animal behavior has bought a big farm near the park and turned it into a nature reserve. She encourages visitors to come and experience the Kalahari on foot with guided walks in the dunes. When we just got there and knocked on the door a very small creature answered – it was a baby meerkat! It instantly crawled up into my hands and sat there making a little meerkat-sound, too cute! It turned out that Anne (the professor) had saved this little thing, somebody had brought it to her only a week ago where it had been completely malnourished and dehydrated. The little meerkat had been kept as a pet and been fed milk and pap (maize porridge). That had almost killed it, as it is not the right kind of diet for a meerkat at all and it had a terrible diarrhea that had dehydrated it so badly it wouldn’t have lasted another 48 hours, Anne told us. Now the little meerkat, who had been named Puppet, was bouncing around and looked like it was in top form! Ann led me take Puppet out to dig – and boy can she dig! Martin and I spend the next couple of hours running around trying to find little holes that might have insects in them for Puppet to dig out. Her diet (the proper one for a meerkat) now consists of insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, moths and even scorpions! She had a scorpion for dinner that night, meerkats (or suricats as they are also called) are immune to the poison of the scorpions and they can even survive Cobra and Puff Adder bites!

Early next morning Anne took us for a walk in the nearby dunes, Puppet came along of course. Anne is trying to teach her everything she needs to know to be able to survive in the wild on her own, so when big birds of prey flew over us Anne made the “scared-meerkat-sound” to alert Puppet and she also showed her which holes to dig out – and Puppet was successful in digging out three big, fat beetles all by herself!
Anne directed our attention to the many, many tracks in the sand showing the movement of the numerous inhabitants of the Kalahari; we saw tracks from small antelopes, striped pole cats, bat eared fox and a ton of insects like the white dancing spider that leaves a pattern looking like a flower in the sand, the tracks of a beetle dragging along a grasshopper it had caught plus evidence of lizards, small snakes and we saw how a whole little world lived here buzzing around at night. It was quite fascinating and very educational, and it was also very cool to see Puppet going at those holes like a little digging machine and contently munching those big beetles!