Meerkats have a matriarchal social system and becoming the dominant female of a group is what all females inherently seek. The dominant female is the mother of up to 80% of the pups born in the family, and usually her offspring are protected and reared by all members. The dominant female often suppresses reproduction of subordinate females by evicting them, so that they abort or have to abandon their litters.
Males usually have to leave their native groups in order to find mating opportunities with non-related females. They can become dominant in other groups if they succeed in immigrating there and ousting the natal males. Dominant males will defend the group’s territory by scent-marking and fighting for it, always supported by the group. They will also defend the non-related females in the group from advances of other males. Subordinate immigrants thus often leave their new group after a while, and try to immigrate elsewhere. The KMP has observed male meerkats who lived in 5 groups, consecutively.
The average dominance span for a female meerkat is 31 months, while a dominant male holds his position for only 17 months on average. The maximum in the KMP for a female to hold dominance is 9.5 years.
The life span of a meerkat very much depends on its social position. Dominant meerkats in average live 6-10 years, with the maximum in the KMP being almost 13 years. Subordinate meerkats are in many cases evicted or disperse by the age of around 3 years, and are subsequently lost. The most important causes of death are predation, fatalities in fights with other meerkats (incl. infanticide), diseases, or human-caused factors like car fatalities – but for two thirds of the KMP meerkats the cause of death is unknown, since they just disappeared.