Meerkats are members of the mongoose family and live in highly organized groups with each member having a clearly defined role in their society. They all work together as a group to ensure their survival in the extremely hostile environment of Southern Africa in the Kalahari desert.
Of all the mongooses, The meerkat is the most sociable. Up to 40 have been found living in close knit groups, and each individual will have its own special task to perform, which as an asset to the whole group.
One of the duties that a Meerkat will perform is guard duty. As the meerkats come out of their burrow the lookouts will watch for predators and bark out a warning to the others if they spot any danger. They will make the most of what surroundings they have and will often climb up a tree as a better vantage point.
When meerkats come up against any danger be it rival meerkats or a predator, they immediately swing into action. Whilst some violently dig up or scratch at the ground to create a lot of dust to put the enemy off, another group will distract the aggressor's attention away from the main group by making mock assaults throwing the adversary off guard. Throughout all this the meerkats will look as scary as possible by bristling their fur, stretching their legs and holding their tails stiffly in the air.
The whole group will then leap up in the air like they have gone mad and growl excessively. Some of the braver meerkats will even have a go at biting if the intruder refuses to leave.
When the young are born the whole group will all add their own individual energy to help bring up and keep an eye on the pups. The other females will help suckle the young and the whole group will take it in turns to babysit.
Whilst foraging for food the meerkats will fan out as individuals but keep in constant communication so they can warn each other of any danger. The meerkat on sentry duty will be well fed and they always take back food for the babysitters as well as the pups.
Even the elderly meerkats perform a service for the group in that they will take over the young meerkats training and instruct them in the art of food foraging, raising young and watching out for danger.
A lot of time is spent on grooming each other, this helps to get rid of the ticks and fleas with which they seem to be plagued with and helps social bonding. They delight in wrestling and playing. Their play fighting will be instructive for the young and also acts as a dominance order in the group. They will also sleep in groups if it is cold, cuddled up and on top of each other to hold the warmth in.
While renovating their burrows meerkats will work together in a line to help remove sand from the burrow. They are very vulnerable to many predators such as the Martial eagle and the Jackal. The quicker they work together , the quicker they can get to safety.
There is constant communication going on with each other through the use of scent, sound and body language. 20 sounds alone have been recorded as to having various meaning and have even been noted that these sounds can be even be broken up into various syllables. They constantly mark each other with their scent glands to maintain the groups identity and will oust any member that doesn't have the right smell.
The meerkats sophisticated social interaction between each other and the group nurturing behavior make these one of the more successful groups of animals alive today.