WildEarth, a company that specialises in bringing wildlife images LIVE to a global audience via the internet and operates a 3D wildlife TV channel, recently approached Tswalu to bring the daily life of the reserve’s meerkat family live onto the internet. With new technology, they are now sending live images of the meerkats onto the net, while filming and producing a 3D documentary at the same time.
Apart from the documentary aspect of this project, there is also a strong research objective. Part of the project will be to explore and describe the meerkats’ underground burrow systems and document both the structure of the burrows and also the creatures that share these burrows with them. This research will complement our knowledge and allow us to further understand what happens once these animals disappear underground.
Tswalu has numerous colonies of meerkats but two colonies have learnt, over a number of years, to trust humans and accept them as part of their environment.
The habituation process began years ago when two neighbouring families of meerkats were identified to be the subject of a wildlife documentary (the wildness of Tswalu, its spectacular landscapes and the rich diversity of Kalahari wildlife, makes Tswalu an ideal location for wildlife documentaries). To habituate the colonies, a person would spend every waking hour of the day getting a little closer to the group, slowly gaining their trust and ensuring that their presence did not adversely influence the meerkats’ behaviour. It was crucial that the meerkats continued about their daily life without any form of reward (food) because this would affect the accuracy and authenticity of the documentary being made.
After many months of slowly gaining their trust, the meerkat families finally accepted the presence of people and, because they have never been encouraged with food, they now simply look past people and continue facing the challenges of life in the Kalahari.
Over the years, the meerkat family has been the subject of a number of films and documentaries. Tswalu has maintained close contact with the meerkats in order to allow guests to experience a close encounter with the colony and also to make the animals available for behavioural and ecological research projects (this type of careful habituation also makes the meerkats extremely valuable research subjects and data on the colony is collected daily).
We look forward to sharing the Tswalu meerkats with the rest of the world. You can watch them LIVE at www.tswalu.com.