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Tim Clutton-Brock's Meerkat Manor book

Be among the first to read an excerpt of the book "Meerkat Manor - The Story of Flower of the Kalahari", by Prof. Tim Clutton-Brock!


Prof. Tim Clutton-Brock has written an engaging and informative book about the life of Flower and her family the Whiskers - but also about what his research tells us about their world, a world which appears to mirror our own but is in fact driven by the sometimes savage instincts of self-interest and survival. The 240 pages come illustrated with superb colour pictures taken at the reserve.


This book, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, is priced £16.99 (hardcover, 240 pages) and is available in the United Kingdom starting October 4th, 2007, from Amazon UK and other bookstores. Friends in the USA please sign up at Amazon.com.


Read an extract of Chapter 1 here:



1 Birth

Holly was hungry. In an annexe to the underground chamber where the other meerkats in the Whiskers group were still sleeping, she had given birth to four pups. It had been trouble-free, she had bitten off the umbilical cords attaching each of the pups to her body, cleaned off the birth foetal sacs and licked the pups dry. Slowly, first one and then another of them had fumbled their way to the warmth of her belly and started to suck from one of her six nipples. The last pup, a female, was the smallest of the litter and had been slow to stir, but Holly had continued licking and had pushed it down to join the others, where it eventually found a teat and began to suck. There were two males, Thumper and Hazel, and two females, Petal and Flower.

The pups now lay in a heap at the end of the chamber. Holly needed food to restore her energy, but she was anxious and reluctant to leave them. She pushed into the sleeping pile of bodies, nosing them awake until first one and then another yawned, stretched and began to make its way up from the sleeping chamber to the bright light above. Holly’s yearling niece, Risca, the daughter of Holly’s subordinate sister, was interested in the pups and came over to smell them, sniffing one and then another and finally lying down beside them. Missing their mother, they clawed their way towards her belly.

It was cold and a southerly wind sighed through the dusty leaves of camel thorns, carrying the chill of the Antarctic across the Kalahari and bringing a reminder of winter ahead. It was 15 March and the burning days of midsummer had softened into autumn. When the wind was in the north or east, it was hot and the meerkats rested in the deepest shade they could find as soon as the sun was high, but when the wind was southerly, it was cooler and they lingered at the burrow before leaving on the day’s trek.

Lancelot, Holly’s two-year-old nephew, was the first to reach the burrow entrance. He paused, sniffing the air, and then cautiously clambered out and stood on his hind legs looking around. The sky was empty and he dropped back down to all fours and began licking his coat. Holly’s yearling nieces, Aphrodite and Artemis, were next up, followed by her yearling son, Dennis Wise, and his sisters, Zola and Vialli. As the sun slowly rose above the ridge of dunes on the far side of the valley the six animals stood up, turning the bare skin of their tummies to the warmth.


* * *

The Kalahari is a land of extremes. In midsummer, in December and January, midday air temperatures of 45°C are not unusual, though it’s cooler in the shade of the camel thorns. Sand temperatures are even higher, sometimes reaching 70°C so that the sand is too hot to walk on with bare feet, though below ground in the meerkat burrows it’s cooler and moister. The meerkats get up before the sun and set off on their daily foraging trip soon after they emerge from their burrows. The heat builds quickly and by nine-thirty or ten they start to search for food in the shade of bushes and trees. By ten-thirty or eleven they are inactive or have withdrawn to a bolthole to avoid the heat, where they will remain until four or five o’clock when the light softens and the heat begins to fade. Gradually, they become active again, and then move off to forage for a couple of hours before heading for one of their sleeping burrows, where they collect in sleepy huddles before disappearing below ground one by one.


Like most deserts, the Kalahari is relatively cool at night, when temperatures seldom exceed the mid-30s. In the midwinter months of June and July, when the wind is often southerly, it is bitterly cold and in the early morning temperatures of -4°C and even -10°C are not unknown. Then, the meerkats get up reluctantly an hour after dawn. They do their best to find shelter from the wind and often sun themselves for an hour or so before eventually moving off between nine and ten o’clock as the sun rises in the sky and the air begins to warm. The air is crisp and clean, and the details of each shrub and tree clearly defined in the cold light, but the land is dry and dead, the trees and shrubs leafless and the grass withered grey-brown. The meerkats have to search widely for enough food, hunting for adult beetles in the roots of the drie doring shrubs (‘three thorns’ in Afrikaans), low bushes with an unusual three- directional branching pattern. The meerkats are now active throughout the day, though they head for their sleeping burrow around five o’clock and are often below ground by six.


* * *

A larger face appeared in the burrow entrance. Argon, the dominant male of the group and the father of most of its members, was now five years old and had been Holly’s mate for the last two years. Like all older males, he had developed enlarged temporal muscles on top of his head. He, too, sniffed the air cautiously and then clambered out and stood with the others turning to face the sun, while carefully scanning the sky on all sides. Gradually the rest of the group joined him until only Holly, Risca and the newborn pups were still below. Apart from the pups, there were nineteen animals in the group. Holly was the dominant female and was now three years old. There were her nieces, Risca, Aphrodite and Artemis, all yearlings, three daughters, Zola and Vialli and Aramis, who were all sub-adults (six to twelve months old), and her juvenile daughter, Wahine. The males included Argon and his brother Delpheus, both of them born in Lazuli, an unrelated male, Beetle, Holly’s yearling nephew Lancelot and her three juvenile sons…


* * *

(c) Tim Clutton-Brock 2007. Extracted from MEERKAT MANOR by Tim Clutton-Brock, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson priced £16.99.


ISBN-10: 0297844849

ISBN-13: 978-0297844846  

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ISBN-10: 0297844849
ISBN-13: 978-0297844846



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