Day 344 | Friday, 26 February 2021
From The Church Mouse
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we are all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free…and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
I Corinthians 12: 12-14 (NIV)
Continuing the theme of unity or one for all and all for one, today’s story will be about Meerkats. They are such great animals and among my favorites. Meerkats live in southern Africa, including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. They live in dry, open plains, savannas and grasslands. They live 8 years in the wild; up to 13 years in zoos.
A member of the mongoose family, meerkats (also known as suricates) have grizzled gray and brown colored coats of fur with dark patches around their eyes, which help protect their eyes from the glare of the sun. They also have a dark tip on the tail. Meerkats have powerful foreclaws for digging. Their pointed snout helps enable them to excavate prey from narrow trenches. Meerkats' slender bodies are 10 to 14 inches long and their tails are almost as long as their bodies at 7 to 10 inches.
Meerkats are the very best examples of selfless unity. With meerkats, there is safety in numbers. A “kat” is not a “cat” when it’s a meerkat, a vital, clever, and amazing weasel-like animal. Most people know meerkats from the character Timon in The Lion King animated movie. However, instead of spending all their time with a warthog, most meerkats live in underground burrows in large groups of up to 40 individuals called a gang or a mob. For meerkats, there isn’t just safety in numbers—there’s also companionship. The mob is made up of several family groups, with one dominant pair that produces most of the offspring, but they don’t have to be related to belong to the same group. Meerkat mobs spend a lot of their time grooming and playing together to keep the family as a tight unit. This community existence helps the meerkats survive. I think we could learn a lot from meerkats.
Although they are excellent diggers, meerkats usually live in burrows dug by other animals such as ground squirrels. These burrows have an average of 15 entrance and exit holes, with tunnels and chambers at several levels, some as deep as 6.5 feet. The deeper tunnels stay at a constant, comfortable temperature, whether it's hot or cold outside. A meerkat mob has several burrow systems, complete with toilet and sleeping chambers, within its territory and moves from one to another every few months.
Meerkats have scent pouches below their tails and rub these pouches on rocks and plants to mark their territory. The territories of different groups often overlap, resulting in constant disputes. When the two groups meet for a face-off, the results can be tragic. Meerkats are vicious fighters that often kill each other in these skirmishes. Knowing the high cost of an all-out war, they try to avoid serious conflict if possible. Usually, a lot of aggressive posturing and bluffing precedes any physical contact. These wars can look a bit like the human battles of yesteryear: both sides line up across a field and, at the right moment, charge forward with leaps and bounds, holding their tail rigid and straight up in the air. Every third or fourth leap, they arch their back and thrust their rear legs backward like a bucking bronco. Whichever side has the most threatening display in their charge may “psych out” the opponents. Yet meerkat groups have been known to accept outside individuals into their mob, and they sometimes share their burrows with yellow mongooses. Again, we could learn something from meerkats. Does our mob share our spaces with others different from us?
Unfortunately for meerkats, they are a tasty treat for larger carnivores, especially jackals, eagles, and falcons. However, meerkats have developed a way to forage in relative safety: adults take turns acting as guard while the others can look for food without worries. The guard climbs to the highest rock, termite mound, or bush he or she can find, stands upright on two legs, and then announces the beginning of guard duty with a specialized call. A low, constant peeping, known as the watchman's song, is made when all is well. Individuals rotate sentinel duty throughout the day.
Fortunately for meerkats, they seem to be doing all right in the wild at this time. Yet movies and television shows have brought meerkats lots of attention, with many people wondering if they can have a meerkat as a pet. Although they may look cute, meerkats—like all wild animals—do not make good pets and are illegal to own without the proper permits and licenses. Instead, head to your local zoo to enjoy these small creatures in action. They’ll be scanning the skies and watching for you! (The Buffalo Zoo has meerkats)