Meerkats work together to hunt, guard their homes, and raise their young; Earthwatch research helped explain the impacts of these behavior patterns and their significance to other species.
Professor Tim Clutton-Brock spent more than a decade studying meerkat society in the Kuruman River Reserve in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. The study focused on the evolution of cooperative behavior among these charismatic animals.
The meerkats in this study were accustomed to human beings, and as a result Earthwatch volunteers were able to walk with the groups as they foraged and run with them when they fought with neighboring groups, to accurately record data such as births, deaths, pregnancies, and changes in dominance status. Volunteers also documented group contributions made by individual members, such as babysitting, pup feeding, sentinel duty, and burrow renovation. Volunteers also worked with individual meerkats, which were trained to climb onto top-pan balances (using boiled egg crumbs) to be weighed three times a day.
The Kuruman River Reserve is home to the meerkats of the television show Meerkat Manor, and the series is filmed on site using one of Professor Clutton-Brock's habituated family groups. Part of the income from this has been used to improve the living conditions of families living on the reserve, including providing electricity and running water to every house and education to their children.