“When you get a psychologically and physically abused animal, rehabilitate it, get it back into a group and ready to leave, it’s heartbreaking – especially the ones I fed with a syringe – but it’s a job worth your while,” says Prof. Anne Rasa, owner of Kalahari Trails, a wildlife reserve and meerkat sanctuary on the Northern Cape’s Red Dune Route.
The Wales-born ethologist (79) spent years studying the behaviour of mongooses before retiring to the Kalahari, where she and her team rehabilitate meerkats who were kept as pets – often under horrible circumstances – and then release them into nature when they're ready.
Initially Rasa’s research on mongooses was “pure serendipity”, but she became really interested in these creatures when “it turned out nothing was known about them”.
”After 27 years I still haven’t figured out what they’re doing.”
What she has figured out, though, while studying yellow and dwarf mongooses over the years, is that a mongoose’s diet will determine whether it lives as a solitary animal or as part of a group. When eating large food items such as birds, snakes and geckos, it’s better for them to hunt alone. “But if you specialise in grubs, you need someone to watch your back as birds of prey are mongooses’ main predator,” says Rasa.
Rasa’s love for meerkats is clear. “It’s heartbreaking that we [have to] spend so much money on rehabilitating them. One that was kept in a budgie cage was brought here a month ago. We also got one whose leg we had to amputate.”
Rasa and her team of researchers dedicate a lot of their time introducing these meerkats to a new group and preparing them for the wild again.
Visitors who’d like to have a look at these ever-busy adorable creatures as they dig about for food can visit the reserve, which lies on the R360 about 60km south of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
It’s best to book ahead of time for the guided walks to the meerkats in the morning (R150pp), night walks during which your guide will show and teach you more about scorpions (R150pp), or sundowner drives where you’ll also get to see the meerkats (R250pp).
As you look at the little creatures peeking out of their holes, don’t be fooled by their cuteness – the females, especially, can be quite vicious, says guide Eben Engelbrecht. “The males are basically the females’ slaves. Every group has a matriarch and she’s the only one who’s allowed to have babies.”
Should another female dare to have her own babies, the dominant female eats the little ones for lunch (not figuratively speaking), says Engelbrecht. Now there’s something you might not have known about meerkats ...
Contact Anne on 072 277 2377 or send her an email at email@example.com for more information or to make a booking.