MEERKATS AT THE MOVIES!

As this week’s Facebook movie star is Timon, the Meerkat from The Lion King, we thought we’d dig a little in the sand to get to know these guys a bit better and (just for fun) compare Timon to the rest of his relatives.For one, he looks like them, complete with dark rings around the eyes to cope better in the harsh sunlight.

They are widely distributed over the dryer parts of Southern Africa, including Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, so Timon is a bit displaced having made the jungle his home. But then he is kind of very special.  Meerkats live in tight family groups called mobs, or a gangs. I guess that’s why Timon and Pumbaa are such tight friends, although Timon’s cousins would be horrified at his choice of mob!

Timon is not all that odd and does have some resemblance to a real Meerkat…sort of… These animals are extroverts, jolly and ridiculously cute and, as you know, the little guy is really chatty and outgoing. His relatives communicate with at least 10 different squeaks, chirps and other sounds and are constantly telling each other about the latest news, awesome catches and lurking dangers. While the gang hunts about in the cool of the early morning, there is always one Meerkat on the lookout. It will give a warning shriek at the first sight of danger. They are so wary of birds of prey that they will even run and hide if an aeroplane flies over…(maybe an inherited fear of a falling Coke bottle in the Kalahari has something to do with it…)

Timon’s appetite has definitely not been affected by his straying from the mob. They LOVE to eat, anything from juicy bugs, to snakes, scorpions and centipedes. Talking of centipedes. These crawlies secrete a poison when disturbed, so a Meerkat would rub it up and down on the ground to let the sand absorb the secretion. Then he would simply dust it off before feasting. Extremely smart!

Sometimes eating becomes a matter of honour:  Meerkats find their place in the gang (and thus in the world) by knowing where they fit into the hierarchy of their mob. The bigger the Meerkat, the higher up in the hierarchy it is, the biggest pair being the dominant pair and the biggest female the dominant individual in the gang. When the dominant female dies, her oldest daughter would assume leadership, but sometimes a younger sister would outgrow her and take leadership from her. She doesn’t take this lying down, so she starts eating more to grow bigger in pursuit of her birth right!

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