Although they may look like a troop of squirrel-opossums, standing on their hind legs and scurrying about without any apparent organization or technique, in reality, meerkats work together systematically for the benefit and survival of their gang…often with little to no communication.
Because they do not store food, meerkats spend most of their time foraging for insects, bird and snake eggs, and even scorpions. But when you are the size of a football, dancing around the hot African savannah while hawks and foxes drool at your every move, focusing all attention on food can be risky business. So what does a mobber do? Well, he mobs, of course!
When confronted by a predator, the self-ordained sentinel, or “watch-kat,” of the group alerts the other members of the mob by barking in an alarmed manner. In the event of a potential attack from above, meerkats dive into their burrows for safety and cover any young, vulnerable pups. For some ground predators, however, such as venomous snakes, meerkats literally “gang-up” on the serpent and form a circle around it, snarling and hissing while trying to look big and menacing.
And while most animals, including humans, have been found to have an innate sense of self preservation above the preservation of others (with the exception of one’s own young, or course), meerkats cooperate and sacrifice for one another with little concern for personal reward.
Meerkats bathe, groom, teach, and nap with one another. At only a few months old, gang members learn to keep an eye out for tinier pups, and mature females without pups of their own act as babysitters when mothers are out foraging for food. Perhaps most amazingly of all, any group member will respond to the cries of any hungry pup, redirecting her food search toward the benefit of the helpless baby – even when it means that she herself may go hungry as a result.
Writer: Stefanie Hanselka