Kalahari Meerkat Project
Years in Service
Kuruman River Reserve, South Africa
Famous Meerkat Mobs
Over 20 years of research on co-operative behaviour in meerkats
Also Known As
The Meerkat Manor filming site
Zurich University, Mammal Research Institute, Institute of African Ornithology, University of Minnesota and Cambridge University
The Kalahari Meerkat Project started in 1993 when researcher Tim Clutton-Brock wanted to study the evolution of co-operative behaviour in mammals. Meerkats were selecetd to be studied due to their social behaviour, duirnal activity (making them easy to track in daylight) and small, non-threatening size. The study site was originally set in the Gemsbok National Park, which covers South Africa and Botswana. But by 2001 a drought had hit the park and most of the meerkat mobs died out. The project was then moved to the Kuruman River Reserve in South Africa, between the borders of Botswana and Namibia.
The Kalahari Meerkat Project, often called the KMP, habituated various groups of wild meerkats. Earning the trust of the wild animals took many months. Eventually, researchers were able to follow the group's on foot and begin collecting data. Meerkats were trained to hop on scales for small rewards of boiled egg or fresh water. Individuals were marked with clipped fur or dark dye in specific locations, to allow more in-depth research of the roles each member carries out. In every group a dominant meerkat was fitted with a radio collar so the mob could be tracked. Each individual was given a code and a name (for easier identification). The ID code provided information on the meerkat's gender and birth group, For example, Flower's code was VWF026, the V stands for Van Zylsrus (after the nearest settlement to the KMP), the W stand for the group (Whiskers) and the 026 stands for the number of pups born in a group, meaning Flower was the 26th pup born into the Whiskers. The number is also applied to wild meerkats who emigrate into mobs. For example, Al Caztraz's ID was VBBM003, he was the third wild meerkat to join the Baobab. Researchers attained data by observing and recording meerkat behaviour, collecting weights of every member up to three times a day and collecting blood, urine or fecal samples. Researchers also conducted various experiments, such as creating fake predators or blocking a meerkat sentry out of view, to observe the responses of other members.
Kuruman River Reserve
The KMP has studied over 90 different meerkat mobs during their study at the Kuruman River Reserve site.
- To see a list of currently studied groups visit Current Mobs
- To see a full list of lost groups visit Lost Mobs.
Gemsbok National Park
There were 16 mobs studied at the Gemsbok National Park site, but the majority of the groups died out during the drought. The remaining groups were no longer followed after 2001. The only named groups included:
The Irchel Mob
The Irchel Mob is a group of captive meerkats at Zurich University in Switzerland. The mob was founded in February 2011 by one of the KMP researchers, Marta Manser. The group, which originally consisted of four meerkats, lives in a purpose-built enclosure designed to replicate the meerkat's natural habitat. The captive mob was set up to allow researchers to study communication and cognition processes in meerkats, without the need to travel all the way to the Kalahari Desert. It also allows the meerkats to be more closely observed at all hours, cameras are set up to prevent any behaviour from being missed.
Friends of the Kalahari Meerkat Project (FKMP)
The Friends of the KMP was founded in November 2007. They are a group of paying members who recieve additional, detailed information on the KMP's research and all of the meerkats being studied. The KMP Friends help fund the Project and can gather in an online forum to discuss their favourite meerkats. Friends also have the exclusive opportunity to visit the Project Site and meet their favourite wild meerkat mobs. Those interested can become a KMP Friend through the Friends of the Kalahari Meerkat Project website .
Life History of the Kalahari Meerkat Project
- In 1993 Tim's team located and track four wild groups of meerkats, the groups were called Drie Doring, Kakoo, Griffin and Zion. Zion and Kakoo were lost.
- In 1994 Tim's team located wild groups called Avatar, Red, Shifty and Phantom. Members of the lost Zion group founded Quantum. Griffen, Shifty and Red were lost during the year.
- In 1995 Tim's team located Vivian and Jungle. Avatar members founded Young Ones and Lazuli. Avatar and Jungle were lost.
- In 1996 Tim's team located wild groups; Mixed Pickle Mob, Unicorn, Taurus and Nutty. Phantons members founded Elveera. Quantum, Mix Pickle, Unicorn, Phantoms, Taurus and Nutty were lost.
- In 1997 Lazuli females started X-iles. Hobo and Harley were founded
- In 1998 Lazuli splintered, other half was called the Riffraff. Riffraff and Harley were lost. Rascals and Whiskers were formed.
- In 1999 the Hobo mob was renamed the Frisky. The Jabberwocky, Nemesis, Sirius and Umbongo were founded. Jabberwocky, Sirius, X-iles and Phantoms were lost.
- In 2000 KK was founded and later renamed QQ
- In 2001 Gattaca, Hobgoblin, Moomins, Tottenham, Balrog and Zappa were founded. Tim's team located semi-wild groups Centaur and Isis. QQ, Nemesis, Umbongo,Centaur and Isis were lost
- In 2002 Asphodel, Pharside and Xhosa were formed. Hobgoblin, Asphodel, Tottenham and Pharside were lost.
- In 2003 Xhosa were lost
- In 2004 Commandos and Jackals were formed. Meerkat Manor started filming.
- In 2005 Nomands was formed. Jackels were lost.
- In 2006 PQ, Hoax and Starsky were formed. Vivian females formed the UV but were not followed. Nomads and PQ were lost.
- In 2007 Tim's team located wild groups Nutters, Java and Polaris. Aztecs, Hoax, Baobab, Kung Fu and Geckos were founded. Java, Starsky, Gattaca, Barlog, Vivian and Hoax were lost.
- In 2008 PK ,Toyota, Van Helsing, JaXX, Sequoia and Hoppla were founded. PK, Nutters and Zappa were lost. Sequoia split and the splinter group disappeared. Meerkat Manor filming ended.
- In 2009: The Sequoia splinter group was located and called Pretenders, Tim's team located semi-wild group Nequoia. Baoabab splinter group called Urukhai was formed. The Geckos was lost.
- In 2010: The Gremlins, Ewoks and Godzilla were founded. Tim's team located Zulus, Colombians and Hells Angels. The Urukhai, Colombians, Hells Angels, Pretenders, Gremlins and Moomins were lost. Meerkats 3D was filmed.
- In 2011:Tim's team located the wild group called the Misfits. Pandora, Yardies, Hooligans and Cave Men were founded.
- In 2012: The Üderkatz, Mayans, Goodfellas and Queens were founded. Queens, Misfits, Godzilla, Hooligans and Yardies were lost. Planet Earth Live / A Meerkat's Tale was filmed.
- In 2013: Honey Badger, Chalibonkas, Furry Massive and later the Freakin' Awesome were founded. Freakin' Awesome was later renamed the Friksarmy. Honey Badger, Frisky, Aztecs, Cave Men, Furry Massive and Acacia were lost. The KMP has been active for 20 years.
- In 2014: The Nematoads, Quintessentials, Alcatraz, Ghostbusters, GenghisKhats, Youma, HiggleDiggle, Xhodes, Teabags and Skyfish were founded. Ghostbusters, Alcatraz, HiggleDiggle and Mayans were lost.
- In 2015: The Axolotls and High Voltage were formed.The Skyfish disappeared and the Chalibonkas, Teabags and GenghisKhats were lost. Later Tobermory was discovered in a wild group later called the the Flaka Flaka.
The Kalahari Meerkat Project has been a popular destination for wildlife documentaries. The meerkats were considered a favorable animal to film due to their eventful lives and ability to be followed. Below is a list of documentaries filmed at the KMP site:
- A Meerkat Family Saga (1997)
- Foxes of the Kalahari (1997)
- Meerkat Madness: Walking with Meerkats (2000)
- Life of Mammals (2002)
- Nigel Marven Meerkat Adventure (2003)
- Ella, A Meerkat's Tale (2005)
- Meerkat Manor (2005 - 2008)
- Teaching and Learning in Meerkat Societies (2008)
- The Language of Meerkats (2008)
- Meerkat Manor The Story Begins (2008)
- Ultimate Wildlife: Animal Defense (2008)
- Meerkats 3D / Mighty Meerkats (2011)
- Super Smart Animals - Episode 2 (2012)
- From Cuddling, Dreaming and Snuggling - Meerkats (2012)
- Planet Earth Live / A Meerkat's Tale (2012)
- Meerkats: Secrets of an Animal Superstar (2013)
- Africa (2013)
- Super Senses: The Secret Power of Animals (2014)
- Talk to the Animals (2014)
- Life Story (2014)
- Martas Welt (2015)