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17 September 2014
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Essex Life

Man kneeling in grass
Rob helping out with sentry duties

Meerkats of the Kalahari: Diary of an Earthwatcher

Colin Rayner
In April, Colin Rayner, from Billericay left his job as a Senior Credit Manager for HSBC, to study the meerkats in the Kalahari Desert for Earthwatch. During his fortnight there he kept a diary of his experiences.

Kalahari Facts

  • The Kalahari stretches into South Africa, Botswana and Namibia
  • The Kalahari is already four times the size of Britain which makes it one of the biggest deserts in the world
  • The word Kalahari is an Anglicised corruption of the Setswana name Kgalagadi
  • The Kalahari was formed over 60 million years ago when Africa became a continent
  • There are four major national parks in the Kalahari
  • The only permanent river, the Okavango, flows into a delta in the northwest, forming marshes that are rich in wildlife
  • The British explorer, David Livingstone, crossed the Kalahari in 1849

Foraging focals with Lazuli today led by Rob. The group were already up when we got to the burrow and it was amazing to see 22 meerkats standing upright showing their tummies to the sun in order to get their blood temperature up. For the first hour we could not get any focals done as the group were very nervous. It would appear that either there was a wild group around or they had caught on to an old scent. However, they eventually settled and we got down to some observations – pretty mixed really as they travelled over 1km and this was either open ground (10%) or waist high grass. Managed to get four focals done but we also had to cross on to an adjoining farm to follow the group which meant climbing an eight foot high wire fence (and also on the way back).

Saw drongos – this appears to be a better bet here than at Gattaca yesterday. This afternoon went out with Helene again to Gattaca to do a drongo focal - no drongos seen but we did spot a yellow mongoose which looks a bit like a light coloured fox and which are apparently fairly rare – there is a researcher at Rus en Vrede (Sam) who is studying them. Towards the end of the session the meerkats ran towards to road and started a semi- war dance with tails in the air – we thought an ‘IGI’ was about to take place (inter group interaction) however Helene thought that it may have been due to a returning member who had been off roaming. However, they then ran off into the long grass and we lost them. Helene tried to pick up a signal from the transponder on the dominant female but nothing doing. As it was getting dark we decided to call it a day.

Dinner was down to us as it was Tina’s day off – we all helped and cooked stir fry veg with bacon, couscous and salad. Amy had some maltesers which we used as dessert. We then went out for a night walk to see if we could spot any wildlife – only wildebeest seen.

last updated: 03/08/06
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