A BBC film crew has managed to uncover the secrets of the endearing creatures’ social skills by sending a meerkat into a nursery den fitted with a tiny camera.
Historic images and an endearing soundtrack show how the blind and helpless meerkat pups make cute chirping noises as they writhe about trying to get fed by their mother, so strengthening their bond with other members of their mob, the accepted collective noun.
Film-maker Gordon Buchanan was able to capture these scenes from the Kalahari Desert for his new BBC One series, Animals with Cameras, by attaching miniature lenses to the 20-ounce creatures.
Although much of the complex social behaviour of meerkat societies has been well-documented above ground, by having a subterranean camera researchers have discovered how the small, carnivore members of the mongoose family sleep together in a bundle and how their communication skills are honed from day one of their lives.
Scientists would only expect to set eyes on juveniles as they emerge from underground at around three weeks, before this time the youngsters’ development is shrouded in darkness.
After recruiting members from the meerkat mob to wear collars fitted with the tiny cameras that film in black and white underground, researchers spent weeks deploying the primed animals to record the historic scenes.
Soon the film-makers are purring with success.
The presenter said over the purrs and chirps of the delicate pups: “We are taken right into the birthing chamber… At the centre we can see the new arrivals.
“These pups are less than a day old. One pup still has the umbilical cord attached. Instinctively, the infants search for their mother’s milk.”
As the sound of meerkat sighs and whimpers get louder, Mr Buchanan explains why they are so noisy: “Their eyes are still closed but, surprisingly, they’re already communicating.
“In this maze of dark tunnels their chirps help the adults find them…
“And also help the family build the strong bond they’ll need to survive above ground.”
Animals with Cameras. BBC One, 8pm Thursday, February 1.
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