Endangered Meerkats co-operate better than most people

People helping save endangered meercatsmeercat

Meerkats’ native habitat in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa,  but they have an adopted home in southern California.  Meercats come to their new home from accredited zoos and are placed here for a variety of reasons: The meerkats may be orphaned, injured, old, sick, or the previous facility has simply run out of room and can no longer care for them. but are given life-long homes at Fellow Earthlings’ Wildlife Center, Inc. http://www.FellowEarthlings.org

Meercats cooperative social behavior can only be found in few other mammals, like mole rats, marmosets, wild dogs, and some other mongooses. Meerkats might offer vital insights into the evolution of mammalian cooperation. According to evolutionary logic, an individual’s success is usually measured by the number of offspring it raises, but some meerkats spend part or all of their lives helping others raise young rather than breeding themselves. Such seemingly co operative behavior can be found in very few mammals, but even within this select group, which includes mole rats, marmosets, wild dogs, and some other mongooses, meerkats are unique in the extent and coordination of their cooperative activities.

“Meerkats’ unusual system of rearing their young poses questions that go to the roots of our understanding of cooperative societies, including our own. Why do mature offspring remain in their parents’ group instead of dispersing to breed? Why do they take risks and spend time and effort to help other members breed? How do group members divide their responsibilities and coordinate their contributions? And how do they ensure that all group members pull their weight?

Few of our closest relatives, the great apes, cooperate with each other as extensively as meerkats. Human cooperation probably has an ancient history, and by studying meerkats, which depend on their group for survival, we gain a window into the evolution of cooperative societies.

Our research on these issues progressed steadily until, two years into the study, disaster struck. The irregular rainfall of the Kalahari failed completely, and the remaining grasses in the park shriveled and died. Twisters cruised up and down the riverbed, and the springbok and wildebeests left to search for the last remnants of grass in the dunes. At first the meerkats hung on, digging for beetles and scorpions in the loose sand, but gradually their condition deteriorated and they were forced to forage farther and farther from bolt-holes—quick-escape burrows scattered throughout their range—and spend more and more of their time without the protection of sentinels.meerkats-family

Meerkats made ideal study subjects because they are only active during the day.  Humans, with time and patience, come to accept them completely. As we sat beside their burrows in the cold Kalahari mornings, the meerkats sheltered behind us from the keen dawn wind. When no stumps were close by, tamer individuals would sometimes climb up our backs and take their turns as sentinels from our shoulders or heads. The more they trusted us, the closer we were able to get. We collected skin and hair samples for genetic analysis, spooned up their droppings to measure their levels of sex hormones, and, using crumbs of hard-boiled egg as an incentive, trained them to climb onto electronic scales. This long-term study, from 1993 to 1998.”

Meercats stand tall –  Tim Clutton-Brock http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0209/feature3

excerpts also from http://animal.discovery.com/fansites/meerkat/meerkat.html

Image courtesy of http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/enlarge/meerkats_image.html


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