Walking with Meerkats
Professor Tim Clutton-Brock introduces us to a family of meerkats called the Lazuli. Following close on their heels, he and his assistant, Grant McIlrath, unravel the drama of life in a clan struggling to survive this unforgiving land.
Every day across the gently rolling dunes of the Kalahari Desert, a family of meerkats called the Lazuli play the survival game. Just twelve inches high, they survive by standing together. Stepping into their world have come a group of researchers from the Cambridge and Pretoria Universities. Their quest: to understand why meerkats go to such extraordinary lengths to help each other.
“Lazuli clan was the first group that we habituated and we’ve been with them for six years now, so virtually all of these animals are very well used to us. In fact, for almost all these animals who have been born in the clan, one of the first things they’ll have seen when they came out of the burrow for the first time is us and they now regard us as quite part of the environment” says Professor Tim Clutton-Brock.
The research project is uncovering some amazing facts about the social lives of meerkats. Bulgarian and Zyzyphus are the group’s dominant couple. But it is matriarch Zyzyphus, a 7-year old female, who really rules the roost.. She has born dozens of pups and still reserves the sole right to breed.
Meerkats employ an amazing variety of vocal calls. Many of them to signal danger and with good reason: only 20% of meerkat pups may survive to adulthood. Incredibly, the team has recorded 25 different meerkat calls, 17 of which identify predators. As Clutton-Brock plays the call of a marsh eagle the clan rush for cover. But not every call results in panicked flight. A mobbing call means there is a dangerous snake about. “They’re going into this complex visual display where they clump defensively together” explains Clutton-Brock as we watch a python being mobbed by the clan. “They react quite differently when you play a pup begging call. Adults will respond immediately and find it food. That’s one of the things that is so amazing about meerkats, they share the responsibility of rearing the young”
This beautifully crafted natural history film captures some unique behaviour in the lives of the Lazuli clan from the group attack of a puff adder to a full-scale war with a neighbouring clan. The result is a hugely informative, entertaining and revelatory film.
“Thank you for a superb production” David Royale, National Geographic Explorer
International Wildlife Film Festival, Missoula 2002 - Merit Award for Revelation & Editing
Cambridge University Large Animal Research Group
Supervising Producers: Sarah Cunliffe, Bruce Norfleet
Producer and Director: Nick Stringer
Year: 18th February 2001 9.20 p.m.
Duration: 30 mins
Editor: Rick Aplin
Music: Elizabeth Parker
Natural History Photography: Tony Allen
Sync Photography: Paul Williams
Sound: Richard Sprawson
Production Manager: Angela Palmerton
A Big Wave Productions Ltd. Production for National Geographic Television