Mary gets up close and personal with the meerkats of Makgadikgadi, Botswana – May, 2011

Dawn is cold in the Makgadikgadi and it is worth taking some extra layers, as well as some patience, as you wait in the morning light for the appearance of a small furry animal – the meerkat!

Patience has probably been the most important ingredient in ensuring that guests from the exquisite Jacks Camp and more adventurous Camp Kalahari are able to spend time with these endearing creatures. Months were invested in posting firstly a person and later a vehicle outside their den so that the meerkats became accustomed to seeing these when they first emerge from their burrows in the harsh morning light.

The result of this patient strategy is a fantastic experience which I was lucky enough to enjoy at the end of my recent educational trip to Botswana.

Buoyed up by a hearty breakfast we set out with our guide to meet the meerkat’s ‘guardian’ and to await their arrival. Not unlike us, the meerkats do not like the cold mornings and as winter sets in, their appearance gets a bit later every day – but it was worth the wait.

First one, then another appeared, climbing onto a sandy mound and facing the sun in an effort to warm up, and before long we were watching the antics of the whole clan as they went about their morning business.

Simply watching them was enchanting; some foraging for insects, some basking in the morning sun and the younger ones tumbling around in play fight. It was at that point that we were told to sit down and very slowly the inquisitive nature of the meerkats got the better of them. Suddenly my legs became a battleground as the youngsters took turns to ambush one another from the great height of my knee, whilst another took advantage of the extra heat offered by my fleece and was leaning back into me as much as possible to garner some extra warmth.  Finally, temptation got the better of one brave meerkat and she scurried up my arm to the perfect lookout point – my shoulder!

And there we sat, the meerkats and I, in perfect harmony, in a place of such stillness and austere beauty that it was easy to forget that another world – full of phone calls and e-mails – even existed.