Five Shy Meerkats one for bucket list

A visit to these shy critters at Five Shy Meerkats is a worthwhile experience 24 August 2019
A visit to these shy critters at Five Shy Meerkats is a worthwhile experience 24 August 2019
Image: Karen van Rooyen

Have you ever heard of the Shy Five?

Well, quite honestly, neither had I until a few weeks ago when I not only heard about them for the first time, but I also got to see one of the Shy Five in their natural habit.

Of course I’d known about meerkats’ existence but not that they were the bashful critters’ answer to the Big Five, along with the bat-eared fox, aardvark, porcupine and aardwolf.

But back to the meerkats, in particular the ones at Five Shy Meerkats, just a short drive outside Oudtshoorn.

Founded by Devey Glinister, Five Shy Meerkats offers daily meerkat-watching tours.

It starts early: the secret is to be in place at the crack of dawn before the meerkats awake and to see them perform their morning ritual.

We head off towards their burrows, carrying our blankets and camping chairs, trying not to think too much about the near-freezing temperatures.

It’s a short walk to the burrow – maybe 500m – and Glinister shares some information about the meerkats as we go along.

His team had scouted the area the night before, as they do every day, checking which burrow the meerkats slept in so we would know exactly where to find them.

Then he stops, and points out a spot on the ground, warning us not to step on it.

To my untrained eye, it is simply a hole in the ground.

But Glinister knows this is where a meerkat burrowed for food the day before. Soon, we are at our spot.

Once we are settled, we need to stay put as movement might disturb the meerkats.

As the sun starts warming me up, I remember what Glinister had told us just minutes before: “They are the only creature on this continent, on this planet, more unpredictable than my wife.”

This could be a long wait, I think.

But Glinister keeps us entertained and when the first meerkat pops out of the burrow about 30 minutes later, it feels like no time has passed.

Soon another head pops out. Then another, and another.

In no time at all, there are maybe 10 or so meerkats lined up, all facing the rising sun in a way that reminds me of the scene in the movie City of

Angels , where all the angels are lined up on the beach, also facing the sun.

They are habituated to people, Glinister says, so they do not react to his voice even when he shouts in an attempt to get their attention.

But they respond to every other sound from nature, becoming immediately alert.

The meerkats stand there, warming up as we snap away and it takes maybe another half hour or so before, one by one, they start venturing off in search of breakfast.

Eventually, there is just one meerkat left guarding the burrow, now also home to a litter of three-week old meerkats.

It is over too soon and, despite the 4°C start to the day, I walk away thinking this was indeed one of the best experiences ever – definitely one for the bucket list.


Karen van Rooyen was hosted by Cape Country Routes: