Slender-tailed Meerkats are small, active animals belonging to the mongoose family. They have a long body and short legs, standing around 30cm tall. The coat is greyish brown to light grey with dark bands across the body and dark eyes and nose. The dark patches around their eyes lessen the desert glare similar to sunglasses and their ears can close in the event of a sand storm.The Meerkat’s long foreclaws are especially adapted to scratching and digging while its pointed snout enables it to reach into small crevices.
Slender-Tailed Meerkats are listed as a species of Least Concern, meaning there have been no major threats identified to their survival. Individual populations may be susceptible to disturbance and habitat loss caused by human activity.
These animals have a large distribution and large populations are protected in several well- managed, protected areas.
Taronga’s conservation work
Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos have a successful breeding program and our meerkats help to educate our visitors on the importance of caring for this animal and their habitats.
Distribution & Habitat
Slender-tailed Meerkats are found in dry, open environments characterised by short grasses and shrubs. They can be found throughout southwest Africa including Angola, Namibia, South Africa and southern Botswana. In these areas the daily temperature can vary between as much as 43°c in summer and 18°c in winter, but in the burrows the temperature can be as little as 1 degree.
Meerkats are sexually mature after one year and have a lifespan of approximately 10 years in the wild. Most young are born during the warmer, wetter part of the year between October and April. There is a gestation period of 77 days and two to five cubs are born in a litter. When the young are born, their ears and eyes stay closed for at least two weeks. The mother will spend the first three to four weeks caring for them in the den.
Slender-tailed Meerkats are carnivores and mainly eat insects. They spend most of their time digging and foraging for insect larvae, moths, butterflies, termites, crickets, spiders and scorpions. Meerkats will only forage for food during the day, being careful not to lose sight of other members of the group.
Slender-tailed Meerkats live in an extended family group of up to 30 individuals, including several breeding pairs. The burrow system is extensive and complex and they often share it with squirrels. They dig the burrows in hard and stony soil and these can be as far as two metres below the surface. When digging their ears close and a special membrane covers their eyes to protect them from dirt and sand.
They might look small and cute but Meerkats have the ability to kill a cobra. Meerkats will come together and form a mob and relentlessly attack the snake if it tries to enter their burrow. They are also immune to many venomous animals such as snakes, millipedes and even scorpions which is one of their favourite foods
While the majority of the group are out looking for food, individuals called sentries will stand guard on their hind legs, watching for predators such as eagles, cobras or jackals. Meerkats communicate using a wide range of calls and the sentries can quickly warn the rest of the group about any approaching danger.
Other adult Meerkats will also remain behind to care for the young allowing the mothers to feed. When the young are older each one has an adult mentor who will teach it survival skills such as how to disarm a scorpion by biting off its stinging tail.