Freephone an expert 01306 744 656

Send Enquiry
Opening Times
Monday
10am – 5pm
Tuesday
10am – 5pm
Wednesday
10am – 5pm
Thursday
10am – 5pm
Friday
10am – 5pm
Saturday
10am – 2pm

Call 01306 744 656 or book a

For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 

Things to do in South Africa

Waking up with the meerkats in Oudtshoorn

The meerkats will start warming up using the sun if it is available. If it’s not, they’ll use methods like cuddling up together…

By JD Glinister
Director and owner of Five Shy Meerkats

When you come on our tours, you’re getting to watch a group of meerkats that we’ve habituated over more than a decade. The goal is to keep it as natural as possible and to interfere with the animals’ lives as little as possible. We’re purely there to observe; we don’t feed them or train them to do funny tricks. They’re free to roam wherever they want, which means that the night before we have to go out to check which burrow system they’re using out of more than 20 they could stay at, so we know where they’ll be the next morning.

One of the most frequent comments we get is, ‘It’s worth the early wake-up!’ And it is an early start because we get to the burrow before sunrise so we can get comfortably seated in our camping chairs while the meerkats are still sleeping. Then we wait for them to wake up, which is all up to them. Generally, it’s not longer than 30 minutes to an hour – we try and plan it nicely, as much as we can. And then we get to see what the meerkats do on a daily basis. 

Every morning is similar but not the same, because it’s nature, you never know what’s going to happen. But the basic routine is that the meerkats will emerge and start warming up using the sun if it is available; if it’s not, they’ll use different methods like cuddling up together, what we call the meerkat totem pole where they’re all huddled up together and you just see little faces sticking up. Or the other one is staying active by cleaning out the burrows. So we observe this and then a little bit of social behaviour: scent marking, sorting out the social hierarchy in the group and then heading off to forage for the morning. And the guides explain what the meerkats are doing and why, so you’re not just sitting there mutely. The whole thing probably lasts about two or three hours in total.

One of the benefits of working with the meerkats the way we do is that they don’t rely on us for food. So if we don’t run the tours for any reason, the meerkats just carry on with their daily lives as normal. When we are there, we are basically just extra decorations, looking at them but not interfering with them. We’re very careful not to do anything to make them feel threatened, so we sit about five metres away in a line on one side of the burrow so they have the freedom to leave whenever they like. Not that we’re likely to stop doing the tours any time soon. People are fascinated by meerkats, and once you get to learn more about them – their habits, the intense social structure that they have – they become even more relatable.

Categories

  • Trips to take
  • Wildlife

Available in these itineraries…

Alfred & JD Glinister

JD Glinister was fascinated by snakes, scorpions and spiders from an early age, but got into meerkats while working at a game lodge that had a family on its property. When his father started Five Shy Meerkats in 2009, he began by helping out with habituating, guiding and so on, before taking over the reins completely in 2017.

Alfred&

Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Andy, who's travelled extensively in South Africa. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - ex banker who can show you the hottest foodie spots in Cape Town, the award-winning young sommelier who can introduce you to Stellenbosch's finest wines and the walking safari ranger who can guide you to the best game.

Freephone an expert 01306 744 656