Telling the story of the Whiskers group and their neighbouring rivals, Meerkat Manor is an unusual ‘docudrama’ series based on the real lives of the charming meerkats at the KRC. Produced by Caroline Hawkins for Oxford Scientific Film, four successive 13-part series between 2004 and 2008 told the story of Flower, the dominant female of the Whiskers group and her family, and in 2021 a fifth series (Meerkat Manor: Rise of the Dynasty) picked up the life- stories of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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Swift – Whiskers Dominant Female

Great-granddaughter of the famous Flower of the Kalahari, Swift is in charge of the Whiskers mob with long-term partner Brea. She may have had a long and bumpy ride across 6 years of

dominance, but she is determined to never back down, even when challenged by her own daughters.

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Brea – Whiskers Dominant Male

The eldest meerkat of the Manor, Brea may be old, grey, and missing most of his teeth, but that doesn’t stop him. He remains loyal to Swift and the Whiskers, helping them to succeed through the

constant struggles of life in the Kalahari from maintaining their territory, to ensuring everyone is well fed and protected from predators.

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Flint and Finnick – Hakuna Matata Dominant Female and Male

Inexperienced in comparison to the leading ladies that surround her territory, Flint gives all she can to lead her young group to success, with marking-mad Finnick by her side. They may not always

see eye to eye on every decision, but as a new pairing, they are slowly growing their group and proving themselves as worthy inhabitants of the Manor.

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Daisy and Scar – Ubuntu Dominant Female and Male

Her name can be deceiving, as Daisy is not such a sweet flower in the Kalahari. Eager to lead her mob to the most fought after territories in the Manor, she doesn’t back down and is not afraid of brutal

confrontation to get what she wants. Meanwhile, tough on the outside but soft on the inside, Scar, is ever faithful in supporting Daisy’s risky decision making even if he’s not fully confident in himself.

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Munchkin – Hakuna Matata Subordinate Female

Small in stature but big in personality, Munchkin, isn’t your typical younger sister and babysitter. Always keen to prove herself from constantly defying the odds stacked against her, she isn’t afraid of

doing what is right for her group.

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Mr Worldwide – Ubuntu Subordinate Male

No one knows for sure where he came from and how he ended up calling Ubuntu his home as a vulnerable pup, but it is clear that Mr Worldwide isn’t afraid of adventure and proving himself as a

potential worthy leader when he grows up.

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Laika, Fly & Hachi – Whiskers Subordinate Female Litter

The three unruly daughters of Swift; Laika, Fly and Hachi, more than live up to the adventures of their famous canine namesakes. Watch them grow up quickly in the Manor, as they go from tiny pups to

pregnant ladies trying to protect their own offspring in a group full of both friends and foes that hope to work together in the end.

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Shandy – Hakuna Matata Subordinate Male

Notorious for his roving activities at neighbouring groups far and wide across the Manor and beyond, ‘Randy’ Shandy is looking for love in the form of a perfect female he can start his very own group

with far away from big brother Finnick. Will he be successful in his endeavours, and secure his own grounds within the Manor one day?

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Making of Meerkat Manor

The making of Meerkat Manor involved 172 days of filming out in the field over the period of a year, in which the team collected more than 1,000 hours of footage! The team involved 6 different camera operators, who used a range of professional equipment. Unfortunately, the Kalahari is a tough place to work and not always too kind to electronic equipment, resulting in 4 broken cameras.

The Films cut

Following the filming in the field, it took 7 weeks to edit a single episode of just 24 minutes. This shows how great care is taken to ensure the best footage and story-lines are chosen for the perfect representation of the meerkats lives to be enjoyed by all.

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Enlighten the Unexplored Underground

Burrow cams are small infrared cameras that can be manoeuvred into the meerkat burrows. These are used with great care and prior habituation work to ensure the meerkats do not feel threatened by a novel object in their burrow that could risk pups being abandoned.

Humidity is usually a rare issue in the semi-arid Kalahari, but when the wet summer season arrives, so does a higher level of humidity. This is especially the case in the more temperate conditions of the burrows, and therefore became an issue for the burrow cams. Letting them acclimatise and de-fog on their own allowed for the great insight into the underground lives of the meerkats.

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From a Dry to a Flooding River

During the summer of 2020-2021, the Kalahari saw incredible amounts of rainfall. This resulted in the first time the dry Kuruman River had flooded in 25 years, and the first time at such a height since 1975. It brought with it many challenges for the researchers and film crew alike.

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Sour Grass: tedious in every sense!

Due to the unusually high rainfall, there was an influx of growth of Sour Grass (Schmidtia kalahariensis) blanketing the Kalahari dunes. It grew up to heights of between 50 to 140 cm, and could be extremely dense in the areas of the highest rainfall. As much as the meerkats tried to avoid the grass due to the acidic sap it produced irritating their skin, it was often unavoidable to reach the best foraging grounds and burrows.

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Covid-19 Impacts

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the first film crew from the UK halting filming after just 4 weeks, and a 5 week break before a South African film crew could take their place and continue filming. This may not seem like a large period of time to cause any issues, but crucial births, deaths, evictions, and even landscape changes occurred in this time, which posed a huge challenge for the editing team to cover these ‘gaps’.

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Working at KRC was without a doubt one of the more pleasant filming experiences of my last 28-plus years of filming. More and more I find locations less and less accommodating to wildlife film makers. Most locations are becoming overcrowded with the conflict of interests that comes from the typical multiple uses inherent in trying to please the various land uses of tourism, photographic safaris, private and public access, hunting and a seemingly endless pressures from external development and encroachment - all in all, the ever present pressure of more and more people wanting their piece of the pie, so to speak. Not true of KRC. As a Research Reserve first and foremost, the location is closed off from these pressures and the animals are only visited by limited researchers and of course, the „exclusive use“ access granted to film crews. If it doesn’t work for the animals, it doesn’t happen. This little piece of the Kalahari truly is a proverbial piece of heaven. For the months we were immersed in the natural beauty of the desert we had carte blanche to pursue our passion and craft. And of course the meerkats are undeniably one of the most endearing subjects to work with as well. Being a long-term part of such a small and close-knit community that is the reserve and its volunteer researchers and management, we never lacked for anything. Accommodation was rustic, yet entirely sufficient to our technical needs and comfort. Meals provided on site were exceptional. And where necessary, the researchers went beyond anything we expected to allow us extra access to ’their’ subjects if we needed the time to intrude just little longer than normal for the sake of story that was unfolding. Everyone seemed to know that in order to tell a captivating and dramatic story, we needed access to behaviour as it unfolded on a daily and weekly basis. We were always treated like kings and we owe everything to all who worked on or off the reserve for the success the end product is testimony to. I would do it all again in a heartbeat!

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Having grown up as a huge fan of the original Meerkat Manor series, I couldn’t believe my luck when I was offered an opportunity to assist the film crew with Rise of the Dynasty. It was such a huge honour being involved with the teams and getting to see first-hand the time, equipment, effort, skill and sheer dedication required to run a long-term research project and create a wildlife series such as Meerkat Manor. We spent so many months in the field following the meerkats, come rain or shine (or once-every-few-decades-flood…), yet somehow it felt as though that time flew by in the blink of an eye. I have made so many great memories and friends thanks to my time at the Kalahari Research Centre. I am so grateful to everyone for their kindness, patience, passion and unending respect for the animals. Getting to work with so many like-minded people, each coming from different backgrounds and all corners of the world, was such an incredible experience. Lastly, I am of course grateful to the meerkats themselves for allowing us to observe and record their fascinating lives. There was never any way of knowing what the day would bring, and no matter how much time you spent with the meerkats they would always find a new way to surprise and amaze you. How lucky us humans are to get such intimate insight into the lives of wild animals in their natural habitat. I have no doubt that Meerkat Manor: Rise of the Dynasty will awe and inspire a new generation of wildlife enthusiasts, just as the series did for me all those years ago. I am sure in the years to come we will all still be hearing about the adventures and accomplishments of the many descendants of the famous meerkat matriarch, Flower.

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As field managers of the research carried out behind the scenes of Meerkat Manor, the opportunity to work with the team filming and producing such a well-loved and brilliant series was incredible. The film crews were excellent in respecting the animals and our research, and showed so much intrigue in even the smallest of behaviours they witnessed and filmed every day. Having a different perspective observing the meerkats was refreshing, allowing our daily work to be seen in a new light, and reminded us how special it is to study these charismatic animals in the wild so closely. The team shared joy and enthusiasm in our meerkat anecdotes – and of those observing them! At the Kalahari Research Centre, everyone on-site works closely together, including the film crew who became an integral part of the team for the many months they spent with us. Everyone was eager to keep them updated on interesting events unfolding across the ‘Manor’, and the film team returned that with many thanks and excitement over the footage they successfully captured. It was truly inspiring to have such a talented team of filmmakers on site that were happy to share their experiences, but it doesn’t just stop with the field team; the production team back in the UK were also a delight to work with. Through the many hours they spent closely editing the footage, they also became attached to the meerkats that were followed, and remain in contact for updates on all of their favourites. Moreover, they were always looking to stay true to the meerkats and their stories’, ensuring narration was scientifically correct and matching with our data. It was certainly a great experience for us all and will remain a highlight of working in the Kalahari.

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