National Geographic : 2002 Sep
young, so each individual expends much less time and energy on cooperative activities. It's a far cry from the groups of four or five that we watched struggling to feed their pups in the park. AND JUMA? LAST YEAR MY SOUTH African colleague Justin O'Riain and I were allowed to spend a week in Kgalagadi to check on the survival of the individuals we had last followed in 1998. The population had not yet recovered from the drought of 1995, and many of the ranges were still empty. The Jacksons were no more-one of their main burrows had been taken over by a family of bat-eared foxes, and the other was clogged with loose sand. We searched for two days in the area where Juma and his family were last seen, scouring the sides of the riverbed with binoculars, but with no luck. Finally, on our last evening in the park, we saw six meerkats standing near one of Juma's old burrows. We walked slowly over to them. Five stared, barked at us, and disappeared into the burrow. One male remained, rocking from side to side, seemingly unsure whether he should follow his companions or stay behind. We sat down ten feet away. He watched as we unpacked the scales, filled the weighing tray with sand, and topped it with hard-boiled egg, just as we had once done each day. He approached hesitantly, gaining confidence with each step. A dark mark below his right eye, which in the past had always distinguished Juma from the others, was still obvious. We had found him. Juma carefully climbed onto the scale, and we weighed him. At 28 ounces he was lighter than he had been at his peak, but he was still the dominant male of his group. He and one other male were the only survivors of the animals that we had left in the park. He was eight years old, the oldest dominant male we have known, and unlikely to live much longer. But his group was one of the largest in the area and will probably maintain its range. Eventually it will produce splinter groups, and a new generation of meer kats will fight for sur vival in the vast sand sea of the Kalahari. O Tour the world of meerkats with photographer Mattias Klum in Sights & Sounds, then find more images and resources at nationalgeo graphic.com/ngm/0209.