Travel Africa Magazine's Ann and Steve Toon reveal the top spots to see suricates in southern Africa
Whether you’re eight or you’re 80 on holiday in southern Africa nothing quite compares to the experience of going nose to snout with a beady-eyed meerkat for the first time. Up there with some of the most compelling and characterful creatures on the African continent it’s impossible not to be charmed and amused in equal measure by a species that routinely stands as upright as we do, is forever gazing off into the distance with a glazed expression and that goes about in a big gang, the members of which endlessly chunter to one another as they scamper about.
We’ll grant you meerkats (a member of the mongoose family sometimes known as suricates) don’t punch at quite the same weight as the Big Five, but what they lack in imposing stature and musculature they more than make up for in entertainment value.
If you’re looking to meet up with a meerkat mob on your next visit to Africa, make sure you head in the right direction. Home for a meerkat is not the bushveld, thornbush or riverine habitats of many traditional safari destinations. They’re creatures of the arid lands – typically southern Africa’s desert and semi-desert areas – including the Makgadigadi Pans in Botswana and the Kalahari and Karoo regions of South Africa.
Share your camp with meerkats in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
This vast cross-boundary game reserve on the borders of South Africa and Botswana may be renowned for its impressive black-maned lions and cheetah hunts, but this semi-desert wilderness is also home to a reasonably plentiful and perky meerkat population. You’ll find groups of them – usually referred to as mobs or clans – popping up unexpectedly on your game drives along the two dry riverbeds of the Kalahari on which tourist roads there are focused.
Mix high society and meerkat society at Tswalu private reserve
The legendary landscape of the Kalahari is ideal habitat for meerkats, but it can be a harsh spot for humans; with searing summers and freezing winter nights. If the rustic accommodation offer of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is not quite your style you can experience the region’s famous desert wildlife, and enjoy magical meerkat moments, in greater comfort at Tswalu’s exclusive, top-end luxury reserve.
Go walkabout with the meerkats of Makgadigadi Pans
Be warned. Marvelling at meerkats is addictive. If you’re looking for another fix you can add to your growing list of suricate acquaintances by spending time on walkabout with them in Botswana’s Makgadigadi Pans. As at Tswalu, the wild meerkats you’ll meet here are not tame, they’re simply used to humans, having been habituated by someone regularly making close contact with them. Because they don’t regard humans as a threat they carry on as though we’re not there – although cheeky sentinels will use the nearest look-out that’s available to them to check the coast’s clear, even if that’s the top of your head. You can see the meerkats when staying at Jack’s Camp, San Camp and Camp Kalahari or by going on a half-day trip from Planet Baobab.
Visit the real-life Meerkat Manor at the Kalahari Meerkat Project
And when you’re totally hooked, don’t’ panic. Because you can now make your whole African trip all about meerkat-watching, staying for a week or longer at the home of the long-running Kalahari Meerkat Project in South Africa’s Northern Cape.