The fall of any powerful leader always creates ripples across the pond, and nature is no different.
As you know, yesterday marked five weeks since Gandalf disappeared from the Gosa meerkat gang. Without warning, without a trace, he just vanished. Did he leave? Was he kicked out? Was he taken by a hawk? Or a Jackal? Bitten by a snake? We have no way of knowing. Day after day the crew counted and recounted the Gosa gang, hoping that we were simply missing the tell-tale markings we use to identify him. But those markings were never seen again, and Cleopatra and the family seemed to drop into a state of worry and confusion.
The loss of an alpha male in any society opens up a few avenues which, if explored, can change the entire direction of the family group. We saw this too in our very own Gosa gang. With Gandalf now gone, there was no dominant male. Impressively, Starsky was first to step up. Starsky? The clown? Yes! The one and only! No ore shenanigans, no ore wrestling, it’s time to grow up. Starsky has now started sharing sentry duty with Matimba and Cleo, and seems to have a very good eye for danger. Hutch too has started acting a little more responsible, but sees to allow starsky to take the lead in most things. The other males in the group (Brutus, Napoleon and Dingaan) don’t seem interested in any form of leadership. They still move with Delilah and prefer to keep their heads below the radar when it comes to leading the group.
And what of Cleo? A Queen without a King. Strictly speaking, she will choose another mate when one presents himself. But that’s the biologist in me. Many times over during my academic career greyed haired scientists with ink stained fingers and opaque lab coats warned me about anthropomorphising any event concerning animals. And yet, over these past few weeks of watching Cleo sit on sentry duty, I cannot help but notice that sense of longing, the sense of emptiness that Cleo has displayed in her behaviour. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s unmistakable. And yet, she has a family to look after and protect and needs an alpha male by her side.
That’s when Malaki arrived.
Dark, broad-headed and solid to the core, Malaki (Mal-ak-eye) arrived on the scene as mysteriously as Gandalf left. At first we assumed he was from a neighbouring gang, but none of the neighbouring meerkat groups are missing any members and so he is officially branded “origin unknown”. We first noticed him about a week and a half ago, snooping around the edge of the group and showing a lot of interest in Cleo. In the days following that encounter, Malaki was able to get close to Cleo and began to forage with her and groom her. The rest of the gang slowly accepted him, until one evening at Northern Burrow the whole family was seen grooming together outside one of the sleeping chambers. A quick succession, but a necessary one for the group to succeed. The next few months will be a testing one for our new alpha male.
And so, we bid a sad farewell to Gandalf, the leader who we lost to the sunset of the Kalahari.
…or did we…
Last night one of the rangers presented me with a photo he took of a very habituated meerkat at Birds Nest burrow. I’m not 100% sure, but it does look like the man himself, Gandalf. If it is him, we will have to wait and see what transpires. He is now alone, and caught between three large meerkat groups.
Time will tell
Rob’s song for the day: Coyotes – Richard Thompson