As this week’s Facebook movie star is Timon, the Meerkat from The Lion King, we thought we’d dig a little in the sand to get to know these guys a bit better and (just for fun) compare Timon to the rest of his relatives.
For one, he looks like them, complete with dark rings around the eyes to cope better in the harsh sunlight. They are widely distributed over the dryer parts of Southern Africa, including Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, so Timon is a bit displaced having made the jungle his home. But then he is kind of very special. Meerkats live in tight family groups called mobs, or a gangs. I guess that’s why Timon and Pumbaa are such tight friends, although Timon’s cousins would be horrified at his choice of mob!
Timon is not all that odd and does have some resemblance to a real Meerkat…sort of… These animals are extroverts, jolly and ridiculously cute and, as you know, the little guy is really chatty and outgoing. His relatives communicate with at least 10 different squeaks, chirps and other sounds and are constantly telling each other about the latest news, awesome catches and lurking dangers. While the gang hunts about in the cool of the early morning, there is always one Meerkat on the lookout. It will give a warning shriek at the first sight of danger. They are so wary of birds of prey that they will even run and hide if an aeroplane flies over…(maybe an inherited fear of a falling Coke bottle in the Kalahari has something to do with it…)
Timon’s appetite has definitely not been affected by his straying from the mob. They LOVE to eat, anything from juicy bugs, to snakes, scorpions and centipedes. Talking of centipedes. These crawlies secrete a poison when disturbed, so a Meerkat would rub it up and down on the ground to let the sand absorb the secretion. Then he would simply dust it off before feasting. Extremely smart!
Sometimes eating becomes a matter of honour: Meerkats find their place in the gang (and thus in the world) by knowing where they fit into the hierarchy of their mob. The bigger the Meerkat, the higher up in the hierarchy it is, the biggest pair being the dominant pair and the biggest female the dominant individual in the gang. When the dominant female dies, her oldest daughter would assume leadership, but sometimes a younger sister would outgrow her and take leadership from her. She doesn’t take this lying down, so she starts eating more to grow bigger in pursuit of her birth right!
The biggest pair has the right to shunt the others around. Being very cooperative, the rest of the mob will do as they are told and quickly….again our friend Timon might have to go back to school for this one.
I don’t know if Timon would agree, but Meerkats can kill and eat venomous snakes. Their bodies can tolerate up to six times the amount of snake venom that would kill a rabbit. Pumbaa faints on the spot if Timon pulls this one off!!!
In case you wondered why Timon is forever leaning on, or touching, or lying on Pumbaa, it’s because somewhere deep down in his subconscious, his great grandfather’s habits are lurking. They are tactile animals and they even sleep in heaps, literally. This also generates body heat to keep them comfortable during the cold desert nights. When it’s hot, they will spread out and sometimes sleep outside under the stars.
So there you have it…a tiny peek into the fascinating world of Meerkats. And now it’s maybe time for popcorn, the couch and one of the best animation movies ever made, or maybe a visit to Butterfly World Zoo to come and watch the antics of these amazing creatures for a while!
Whatever you choose, enjoy!!!
PS: Being such social animals, wild at heart and totally dependent on their place in the gang, adult Meerkats find it almost impossible to be content as pets. Please do not mistake their cuteness for an invitation to keep them, even if old uncle So-and-So had one. Quite a few individuals have been donated to Butterfly World Zoo, where they have now formed their own gang of sorts. You are welcome to come visit them here.
Remember: Appreciate, don’t keep.
By the way, the name Timon means honour…which is very fitting for these amazing animals…(see the cover photo)