The sun crossed the horizon behind the distant mountains in an explosion of pink and orange. As the rays reached across the vast expanses of the Karoo, the chill of the desert night was gently swept away.
Soon enough, we could feel our backs warming up as we sat, dead still, next to the little mound that hid the entrances to the meercat den. Suddenly, a little head peeked out. Unperturbed by us, the first meercat made its exit and raised up to its full length to report for sentry duty. A low chatter was all that was needed to coax the rest of the family out of the den. One by one, they came out to find a sunny spot where they could soak up the first rays of the morning.
The name meercat comes from Afrikaans, and actually means "lake cat". But despite their cat-like appearance, meercats belong to the mongoose family and are the only members of the genus Suricata. In Swedish, there is a saying that goes "kärt barn har många namn" which means "a child that is loved has many nicknames". The same goes for the meercat. It is also known as a "stokstaartje" (little stick-tail) in Afrikaans, or "erdmännchen" (little earth-men) in German. The former comes from the meercats' habit of sitting on their tail (nope, they don't stand on their hind legs, they sit on their tail!) and the latter from their man-like appearance when they stand on their mounds.
This tour takes place close to Oudtshoorn, on a farm called De Zeekoe. The meercats are wild, but have through painstaking work been accustomed to hearing human voices (and camera-clicks) by the resident guide and researcher Devey, who has worked with the meercats of De Zeekoe for over 6 years. Guests at De Zeekoe get preferential rates for the tour, and the lodge is certified by Fair Trade Tourism making it the perfect venue for an eco-adventure, but it is also possible to book the tour as a day-visitor (as and when they have space available).