A while ago I had the privilege of going on a Meerkat tour with Devey Glinister of Meerkat Adventures and thought I should write a brief trip report for those of you who were thinking of doing this tour.
The first thing I would like to say is that there were no problems booking this tour. Devey is very easy to get hold of. He responded promptly to my e-mails and everything went to plan.
The tour is conducted close to the town of Oudtshoorn in the little Karoo. The guide, Devey, has a great love of nature and has been working with animals for many years. He is a fascinating man and we learned a great deal from him, not just about Meerkats.
My alarm went off at 05:00 on the day of the tour and I had not slept well. I think the anticipation of doing something that I was looking forward to so much had raised my adrenalin levels too much to allow me to rest properly. I felt like a kid on the night before Christmas so I had two cups of VERY STRONG coffee (taken intravenously) and this, combined with my growing excitement, enabled me to function at (a barely) reasonable level. We were staying at The Thorntree which is one of my favourite places to stay in Oudtshoorn so we left at 05:40 in order to meet Devey at 06:00 (the meeting time is earlier in Summer) and after introducing ourselves, followed him in our vehicle to the area where the Meerkats have their burrows. When we arrived, we had another much needed coffee and Devey gave us a talk about the Meerkats, his background and plans for the future. Although the talk was very interesting, I have to say that all I wanted to do was go to the Meerkats as I did not want to miss even a second of viewing or one potentially great picture. I needn't have worried though.
After coffee, we took a short walk to the burrow where Devey thought they were sleeping. I am quite a keen photographer and I had fitted a very big and heavy lens on my Camera. Carrying this lens around can often feel like a serious workout but I was so excited, I did not notice its weight.
Normally Devey would have followed the Meerkats to their overnight burrow on the evening before the tour but he lost track of them on this occasion as there was rain and he could not keep up with them as they were scampering for shelter. He does however know these little creatures very well so was able to narrow down his search to two burrows. So just before the sun rose, we set up our chairs at the burrow closest to where he last saw them and waited. Meerkats have very fast metabolisms' and have almost no insulation. They need the heat of the sun to keep them from burning too much energy maintaining their body heat (overnight, they can lose 5% of their body weight) so they will only emerge from their burrows when it is warm enough. It was quite a cool morning so Devey was not too concerned when the Meerkats did not appear immediately after the sun rose. After some time though he decided to walk over to the other burrow to check things out and soon returned saying that he had spotted some fresh tracks so we moved and set up our chairs there. Anyone that has spent time viewing wild animals knows that nothing is guaranteed so I have to admit that I was starting to think that we may not see the Meerkats but a few minutes after we arrived at the second burrow the Alpha Female cautiously made her way out into the world to perform her morning safety check before announcing to the rest of the mob that all was well and they could also leave the security of their overnight shelter. There is something very special about these animals and I think they make fantastic photographic subjects so I was very relieved when they finally appeared. Photographing animals is one of my favourite things to do and I filled my memory card very quickly (luckily I had a spare). While I was busy snapping away, Devey told us a bit more about the personalities of the individuals we were seeing explaining the role they played in the group and their position in their highly structured hierarchy so the experience was not only enjoyable but also very informative.
When the Meerkats had warmed themselves enough and made sure there was nothing dangerous around, they set off on their day long foraging expedition. We followed them for a while but it is amazing how fast these little animals can move so we soon lost track of them and reluctantly made our way back to the car.
I can honestly recommend this tour to anyone that enjoys viewing animals in their natural habitat. It really is a wonderful experience, especially for a keen wildlife photographer. I will definitely do it again!
If you want to see some of the pictures I took, follow this link flickr.com/photos/…