War Dance Is a Serious Business for Meerkat Clans
Mon, April 19, 2021

War Dance Is a Serious Business for Meerkat Clans

The meerkat is a small carnivoran that belongs to the mongoose family. As a clan, they live in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and South Africa / Photo by: Mikhail Koninin via Wikimedia Commons

 

The meerkat is a small carnivoran that belongs to the mongoose family. As a clan, they live in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and South Africa. According to the American TV network The National Geographic, the animal’s scientific name is Suricata suricatta and it weighs up to 2.2 pounds. 

 

War Dancers

The gregarious animals are usually seen in families and groups and they live together in a large community. They are known for their cooperative behavior as they work together in numbers. A new study by the University of Cambridge and the University College London also found that for meerkat clans, war dance is a serious business. They perform the fearsome war dance as their way of scaring off their enemies and protecting their territories.

Their study, which was published in the journal The Royal Society, explained that many animals live in social groups and they compete intensely with their neighbors for mates, resources, and territory. Although much of the competition among the groups is only indirect, such as vocal exchanges and scent-marking behavior, some species directly take part in physical aggression. Meerkats are a species that has regular aggressive interactions with their neighbors and even within their group.

The gregarious animals are usually seen in families and groups and they live together in a large community. They are known for their cooperative behavior as they work together in numbers / Photo by: Dzp via Wikimedia Commons

 

Highly Territorial

Compared to other carnivores, meerkats are highly territorial, the researchers wrote. Within their group alone, reproduction is monopolized by the dominant pair and they produce more than 80% of the offspring. Because they are highly territorial, they would deposit anal scent marks and feces at the sites to mark their territorial boundaries.

For intergroup conflicts, the winning meerkat groups sleep in burrows away from the center of the clan’s territory and the losers will retreat closer to the center of their territory.

 

Prelude to the Actual Fight

The researchers shared that about a third of the interactions are resolved if one meerkat group will entirely avoid the other. However, if their actions will escalate into a feud, the meerkats will perform some kind of dancing or chasing as a prelude to the actual fight. As a result, about 86% of the intergroup aggressive interactions will end before the fight. Does their fight result in death? The researchers answered that most of their fights don’t, but it happens at least once in 13 cases.

Big groups with more pups (babies) often win the battle. The team theorized that it could be because they are worried about losing their pups if they will retreat or lose the battle or they have more to gain if they expand their territory. It may also be the instinctive response of the adult meerkats because the presence of their pups triggers them to put more effort.

The researchers shared that about a third of the interactions are resolved if one meerkat group will entirely avoid the other. However, if their actions will escalate into a feud, the meerkats will perform some kind of dancing or chasing as a prelude to the actual fight / Photo by: Holly Occhipinti via Flickr

 

Data Collection

For data collection and study population, the researchers used the long-term behavioral studies of meerkats as part of the Kalahari Meerkat Project in South Africa. As part of the team’s observation sessions, one researcher was assigned to follow the habituated meerkat group for hours from their emergence from the burrow and up until they sleep in the evening. The interactions in the group were also recorded.

For their final dataset, they used the information collected for more than a decade of observing 422 separate interactions of meerkats involving 36 groups living in the Kalahari.

 

The Perspective of the Study on Human Warfare

Dr. Mark Dyble, evolutionary anthropologist and lead author of the study, explained that if we wanted to fully understand human violence that is happening in society, we can make use of the information from the evolutionary roots. This means understanding why animal groups are fighting and what they lose or gain in doing so. For their study, the team showed that although intergroup aggression among meerkats could result in one member being killed, winning the fight is necessary for them to maintain their territory. This is important to them because in the harsh environment of the desert where they live, living in a good territory helps them to survive.

Meerkats: Facts and Statistics

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the governing body of protected sites, does not consider meerkats to be facing extinction in the wild. The animals are also not threatened to live in the wild but as to their current population, no research was carried out yet although there are thought to be 3,400 of them living in zoos worldwide, shared the Belfast Zoological Gardens in an article.

Meerkats are social animals. In one mob, there are about 20 to 30 members. There is always one tasked to be a sentry or one always watching the sky and their territory for predators. If the sentry spots anything suspicious, it will send a sharp bark to alert the other members that danger is coming. For their diet, they eat invertebrates and insects but also birds, bulbs, roots, small reptiles, and eggs. The squirrel-sized animals can likewise spot an eagle in flight even if it is a thousand feet away from their direction.

Just like in other studies of animal behavior, the war dance performed by meerkats can help shed light on us humans. The findings can also be used for environmental purposes and understanding better the problems of nature conservation.