The KRC provides research facilities in a remote and unspoiled area of the South African Kalahari on land that it owns and controls, ensuring access to secure sampling areas. Current projects include a mixture of fundamental and applied research projects in population and community ecology, behavioural ecology, reproductive physiology, population genetics and conservation biology.
The Kalahari Research Centre provides extensive opportunities to conduct field research on many Kalahari plants and animals. We welcome independent projects on site. In addition, we maintain long-term data on several species and are happy to collaborate with independent teams who wish to use our data.
We can provide access to 3,200 Ha of our own land which is grazed by a range of antelope, but carries no domestic stock. The land consists of vegetated fossil dunes and sections of the (dry) bed of the Kuruman River, edged by Acacia erioloba trees. It is unimproved, though has been heavily grazed in the past (before the year 2000). The boundaries are fenced, but smaller animals can (and do) pass through without difficulty. Lists of plants and animals found at the KRC are available HERE. The KRC is a safe place to conduct research projects and there are no problems with security. We monitor rainfall and temperature at several weather stations across the reserve, with records extending back for nearly 30 years.Read All
We have accommodation for up to 50 scientists and assistants on site, with access to electricity, running water and internet. In addition, we maintain multiple 4x4 twin-cab pickups and can hire vehicles to visitors for short visits. For those that work with us for longer periods, we maintain a vehicle workshop with inspection pit. Fuel (diesel) supplies are maintained on site. There is a South African-registered veterinarian living on site and our laboratory facilities include a wet lab, portable ultra-sound and X-ray equipment, anaesthesia equipment, -80°C storage freezers and a molecular lab where DNA can be extracted and cloned.Read All
Long-term research projects at the KRC offer volunteer positions, providing excellent opportunities to gain work experience in a safe and professional environment.
Volunteers are able to develop specific skills in collecting ecological and behavioural data, and in data handling. We maintain contacts with other African field research projects, and many of our volunteers move on to do MSc’s or PhD’s with other teams working in other areas of Africa. We provide comfortable living facilities, cover the costs of food and accommodation and provide a small personal stipend.
Our volunteers come from a wide range of countries. Most already have an interest in animals or in natural history and some previous experience of field research. We prefer them to stay with us for 12 months, but are prepared to consider stays of 6 – 12 months.
The KRC hosts professional film crews who wish to film our populations of habituated birds and mammals, including meerkats, Cape ground squirrels, fork-tailed drongos, Southern yellowbilled hornbills, and Southern pied babblers. All of these provide unusual opportunities since they can usually be filmed from a few metres distance. In addition, the Kalahari landscape is unusually open, making it relatively easy to locate groups of animals and film them from some distance away when necessary.
The KRC offers a package for film crews including air-conditioned accommodation, catering, vehicle use and access to the satellite internet connection, as well as scientific guides.
Meerkats live cooperatively in groups of 2-50 individuals, usually consisting of one dominant breeding female, one unrelated breeding male and their juvenile, adolescent and adult offspring. All group members contribute to guarding and feeding pups and help to look out for predators or rival groups of meerkats. Meerkats can live for up to 13 years, though few survive that long as annual mortality rates are high.
When pups are first born into a group, they are extremely vulnerable and will stay below ground at the burrow for their first two weeks. During this time, subordinate group members take turns in remaining at the burrow to care for the pups until they are old enough to begin foraging with the rest of the group at around 24 days after birth. Babysitters may be present for minutes, hours, or even full days at a time before switching up their role with another group member so that they may forage for themselves. Female babysitters may also lactate for the pups, even if they are not their own!
While group members cooperate to rear pups, they do not share their food and forage for insects, grubs and small vertebrates independently. However, when there are pups in the group, adults will feed a portion of the food they find to the pups, teaching them how to forage and handle dangerous prey items, such as scorpions. This allows the pups to develop their foraging skills to become useful and successful members of the group.
The diet of a meerkat usually consists of a variety of invertebrates or small vertebrates ranging from termites and their larvae, to scorpions, millipedes, small lizards, small snakes and rodents. Occasionally, meerkats also eat eggs of tortoises or birds on the ground, as well as plant bulbs or other vegetation. A meerkat’s diet changes across seasons, correlating with what is available and what is most nutritious, which depends on recent rainfall. In the summer, when food is plentiful, they will ignore a millipede for more palatable foods, such as scorpions, but in the winter, when food is scarce, individuals will fight over millipedes and other less preferred foods.
There are over 30 known call types that meerkats use to communicate. These have a range of functions including: letting each other know where they are, maintaining social bonds and hierarchies, informing others when they see a threat and whether it is terrestrial or aerial, the urgency level of a threat, rival meerkats approaching, or to ‘recruit’ other individuals together to mob a threat such as a snake! Pups have their own calls to ‘beg’ for food, and the louder they are, the more likely they’ll be fed!
While taking cover underground may be the best response to threats such as birds, it can be more effective to ‘mob’ a threat such as a snake to appear intimidating. Using a ‘recruitment call’, individuals will signal the threat to the rest of the group. With their tails raised, they will group closely together, and a typical mobbing display commences surrounding the threat. Some individuals may also spit to be more intimidating. This often discourages any predators from attacking, or even make them flee! Meerkats may also mob an unfamiliar scent, to be prepared for attack should they find a lurking threat.
A meerkat group will hold a territory of land covering 2-5 km2. They will forage cohesively across this area, marking it, and aggressively defending it with their intimidating ‘war-dance’ behaviour should they encounter any neighbouring groups or individuals. Territories tend to change over time, likely due to encounters with neighbouring groups, predation risk, and resource availability and suitability.
Meerkats sleep in complex tunnel systems known as burrows, which have often been dug by ground squirrels., though meerkats regularly maintain and expand them. They change their sleeping every few days, though following the birth of pups, groups usually remain at a single burrow for several weeks until pups are around 4 weeks old and can travel with the adults.
Boltholes are important within a meerkat’s territory. These smaller holes are usually just large enough for the group to take brief shelter, whether from predators or poor weather. There are often more than 1000 of these boltholes throughout a meerkat’s territory and there is evidence that they have detailed knowledge on the location of these, and the direction and distance at any time during their continual movement while foraging.
We welcome and greatly appreciate support of any level, from signing up to our newsletter and following our social media to stay up to date and share our work, to donations of any amount or larger sponsorships. We also wish to encourage those with a specific interest in the Kalahari Meerkats to consider supporting the meerkat project through joining our supporter’s group, the Friends of the Kalahari Meerkat Project (FKMP).