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Meeting the Meerkats

When I chose San Camp as one of the destinations for my honeymoon it was for two reasons. One…I’d seen the photos and heard how different it was to anywhere else…Two…I’d heard you could meet the meerkats!

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Whilst the idea of getting close to meerkats was easily enough of a draw to get me there, I was nervous that at best it might not live up to my expectations and at worse it might turn out to be an incredibly gimmicky experience or feel a bit like being at a zoo. As it turned out nothing could have been further from the truth and the experience exceeded my wildest dreams.

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You wake up early in the morning…early even for the start of a safari day. You then head straight out with your guide, taking a picnic breakfast, and head to where the meerkat clans live. The camp are able to keep track of where they burrow because there are a couple of ‘meerkat men’ who spend all day every day with the ‘mob’, ‘gang’ or ‘clan’ depending on which collective noun takes your fancy. As a result of this constant human presence, still and silent in the background, these meerkat clans are about as habituated as wild animals can be.

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We arrived before the sun was really up; watching it rise in the distance over the Kalahari is in itself a spectacular event and then gathered around the vehicle for some hot coffee to warm up. As it turned out we were exceptionally lucky with the weather as it provided the perfect conditions for spending as much time as possible with meerkats. The ‘meerkat man’ soon arrived on his bicycle…watching somewhere cycling towards you across the Kalahari grasses is really quite surreal! He then explained to us that as the sun appeared we should gather around the meerkat burrow, there are several entrances to this, and as the sun heats the air up they will start to emerge. Apparently the reason why we had particularly good conditions was that the morning was very chilly, and on a day like that we were told that the meerkats will tend to hang around the burrow for longer, warming up and having a bit of a sunbathe.

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Lo and behold as we settled ourselves down on the ground, it wasn’t long before beady little eyes appeared in the depths of the holes, swiftly followed by a little head poking out. From that moment on time seemed to fly past as the clan appeared one after the other. Oddly enough it was the youngsters first, it would seem they are too headstrong and curious to be restrained by adult cautiousness. Although to be fair it could just be the exhaustion of keeping the youngsters in check that resulted in their parents needing a little lie in and time to recuperate. We were told to expect them, and allow them, to climb on us, but never to reach out and touch them ourselves. Therefore we settled happily down, looking forward to our temporary roles as human climbing frames. The reason for the climbing is to use our additional height to give themselves a better view, be it in search of predators or just scoping out the landscape I do not know. Within ten minutes of the first head popping out of a burrow I found myself cross-legged on the sand with a lapful of meerkats and one attempting to climb up my arm. It was utterly extraordinary and just fascinating to see how little our presence bothered these wild animals.

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As the day heated up they started to move on and this is why the camp really describes the experience as ‘Walking with the meerkats’. On very hot mornings they will tend to get going straight away our guide explained to us, off on their day-long hunt for bugs and other appetising morsels. However if you find them on a chilly morning like ours it can result in a nice long sunbathing session with them, followed by a walk through the Kalahari and trying to keep up with the little critters as the ostrich outpace you all in the distance!

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