What Counts in the End
What in the World Is Going On?
It’s hard to say who is happier to see whom: Is it the tourists who love to watch the creatures standing on their hind legs—or is it the little animals (about 20 inches head to tail) waiting for the next people show? Meerkat Magic Ranch in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, is one of the few places in the world where you can observe meerkats (aka suricates) in their natural habitat. The tourists take a seat on the folding chairs and proceed to fiddle with the camera on their mobile phones and make funny faces and strange sounds as they chitchat and get comfortable. All that most of them seem to be thinking is: “What cute, funny-looking little critters!” And for their part the meerkats seem to be thinking: “These huge critters are making way too much noise and wasting a lot of energy on nonvital activities. And they’re doing it in the desert heat! Let’s see how all that will work out.” And if a sharp-eyed photographer presses the camera’s shutter at just the right moment, the result might be a picture like this in which the meerkat seems to be asking itself: “How silly can you get?!” (Human behavior makes no sense to Suricata suricatta.) Meerkats don’t ever move a muscle without good reason. But when they do, they get it right, becoming a formidable opponent for even an eagle or a full-grown cobra. To keep from being taken by surprise by a predator, these desert dwellers post sentries to keep watch and warn their gang of danger. They have keen distance vision, and long horizontal pupils provide a wide field of view without the need to turn the head. This helps them decide in an instant if an intruder poses a threat or is merely an extra in the desert’s cinema. People, they’ve decided, are large but harmless creatures that mostly just pose a danger to themselves.