Meet a Meerkat face to face in Botswana and South Africa
Meerkats abound in parts of South Africa and Botswana and, with fantastic family friendly safari camps, both countries can be perfect destinations for a family who’d like to meet meerkats in person. Read on to learn more about the best places to interact with meerkats and see our top tips for the best camps and lodges to get up close and personal with a meerkat clan. Remarkably adept hunters with acute eyesight and incredible hearing, Meerkats are highly skilled at catching and eating prey such as scorpions. They are very social animals, living in communes of 20 to 30 members, where childcare, lookout duties, and hunting are all shared among the clan. Incredibly courageous creatures, they will ferociously defend themselves and their clan and burrows against attack from eagles and jackals, their major predators. They are also immune to most snake venom.
The meerkat’s natural habitat is the desert and semi desert regions of Southern Africa, primarily the Kalahari and Karoo regions of South Africa and the Kalahari and Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana. There is also a population in eastern Namibia, where the Kalahari approaches the central mountain ranges. A visit to a meerkat burrow can be a memorable part of a family safari holiday; their interactions are fun, engaging and interesting to watch for all ages. They are good teachers of their own offspring – for example showing them how to eat a poisonous scorpion safely, they are not aggressive to humans, and happy to use people as lookout posts should they provide a suitable platform when needed to get a better view.
It’s possible to spend time with habituated meerkats in specific places alongside scientists and researchers who understand the habituation process intimately. The policy is not to affect meerkat behaviour with the presence of humans, but to let them become accustomed to the presence of people while carrying on with their normal lives. It can take several years to achieve this.
The best places to have a meerkat experience are at safari camps where the habituation has been undertaken. Camp Kalahari in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans is an example where walks to see the habituated meerkats nearby are a regular highlight of people’s wildlife experiences from this tented camp. A three night stay here for a family of four costs from £5,660 including accommodation, all meals, house drinks, flights from and back to Maun, and all safari activities.
Jack’s Camp is reasonably close, in a private area of the pans, and was where the original habituation process was launched. In addition to the activities away from the camp there is also a museum of human artefacts for visitors to enjoy. A three night stay for a family of four costs from £10,775 including accommodation, all meals, house drinks, flights between the camp and Maun, and all safari activities.
The Tswalu reserve in South Africa is a huge private area far out in the Kalahari. Extending to 100,000 hectares, the reserve has remarkably good wildlife, including lion and rhino, as well as two families of habituated meerkats. As one of many activities on offer, walking with meerkats is likely to be a highlight of any family’s stay. A three night stay for a family of four with children of 11 or under costs from £5,737 including accommodation, all meals, house drinks, flights between the lodge and Johannesburg, and all safari activities.