These vigilant animals stand up for each other
There are lots of animals looking to make a meal out of a meerkat, from birds of prey to jackals. However, meerkats have developed an effective method of ensuring every member of the mob can eat without worrying: adults take turns on sentry duty.
The sentry takes up position on a high point, stands up and keeps watch. Others occasionally stand up as well if they notice anything worth checking out, and pups pick up on the behaviour by watching their family. A ‘peep’ call from the sentry lets the others know that everything is OK, but at the first sight of a threat the guard gives an alarm call. There are different calls for predators approaching on land and in the air, and the mob responds by running to find safety in the nearest bolt hole – a specially dug wide tunnel that can accommodate several panicked meerkats at once.
Although this defence tactic helps keep meerkats safe, it can sometimes cost them a meal. The fork-tailed drongo is a crafty bird of the Kalahari, and it’s found a way to exploit the cautious meerkats. Drongos hang around near a mob and provide extra security by giving a warning call if they see any danger. They help the mob enough times to keep their trust, but occasionally call when there’s nothing wrong before swooping down to steal food while the meerkats are hiding.