One of the most fascinating animal story, I have had the opportunity to closely follow on television is the documentary series of that remarkable group of mammals called Meerkats. These domestic-cat sized animals of the mongoose family whose life and interaction have been captured on camera for television easily ranks among one of my most memorable documentaries for reasons you’ll get to know as you read on. This particular documentary is an award winning project that took the world of animal documentary to another notch. In fact if I were to classify it in terms of film genre, I would easily fit into the thriller- suspense category. It is set about the animation and the sociology of the Meerkats and was filmed in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, a place where they are mostly found.
This very specie of animals caught my attention the very moment I stumbled on the documentary. They were a set of mammals with characteristics and bearing that is quite capturing. They are social animals that lived in colonies and thrive on a strong communal bond. They are quite collaborative and have this remarkable behaviour of scent marking and grooming one another to assert authority and demonstrate loyalty. Whether in the benevolence of plenty or the cruelty of drought, I followed these fascinating animals as they lived in competition amongst known and unknown enemies of their Kalahari habitat.
This group of animals were very enthralling indeed in many respects, their sense of family and altruism was a major part of their interaction that impressed me. Behaviour-wise they were quite interesting to watch. They could easily readjust to standing on two hind legs and remain in that outstretched sentry position with only their head darting from left to right for as long as the perceived danger subsists. They were kind of cute animals to watch episode after episode as they daily enact their peculiar way of life and perpetually compete for lucrative forage portions of the Kalahari space.
A dominant female, usually takes charge and directs the activities of a colony which could be as large as forty Meerkats and she does that in company of her mating partner, usually a male of like stature who quite contentedly plays a shadow leadership role.
The Meerkat Manor which was my very first contact with these animals is a very absorbing documentary. They took an ordinary animal-in-the-wild activity and gave it a plot. With a story angle to it and first class narration, I just loved it the moment I saw the first episode. And somehow I became swept up and involved the moment I started watching it as someone would do for a favourite soap opera. I didn’t want it to have any other meaning than the meaning I envisaged. I looked forward to the next episode and would hurry back home to catch it on any one of the stations showing it, the same way people rush home in expectation to meeting something pleasant at home. I was absorbed in it, especially the main character; the plot was centered on a Meerkat called Flower; the dominant female and leader of the group of Meerkats named The Whiskers.
Finding herself with a large family to look after and surrounded by various survival challenges and many enemy groups within the Meerkats and the outside, she stood heads over shoulder above her rivals and adversaries in the same quest and led her burrow-hold (house-hold i mean) to successive and profitable spells of foraging adventures dealing with every danger and encumbrances with courage and the decisiveness it deserves.
Flower went beyond being an ordinary Meerkat to become a leader. A leader on whose shoulder great responsibility rests and she did not for once shirk her role or cower in the face of daunting challenges. She gave the best she could to every situation. While rival Meerkats would raid and poach each others burrow in the very frequent fight for territories in the Meerkat Manor and harm and kill harmless little Meerkats of rivals, when Flower found herself in similar situation she displayed a rare kind of spirit and adopted the little ones instead of killing them off. She would also, forgive, welcome and readmit erring female Meerkat of her household that have strayed and done the abominable thing of going outside to mate with her adversaries and cleanse them of all unrighteousness so to speak. She would accommodate and care for the resulting litter (offspring) born of such unholy union even while her own new born is still a day or two old and needing all attention. She was brave and thorough. Even the event that led to her eventual death was as heroic an act as can be.
After leading many battles over forage lands, conquering many grounds for the Whiskers exclusivity and after asserting her dominion as one to be reckoned with, she confronted a snake that eventually sent her to rest. The cobra had earlier met and escaped from an encounter with her pack of foraging Meerkats in their full strength who had successfully waded it off, only for the snake running for cover from the menacing Meerkats made a dash and slide into the nearest hole in sight. Alas! it was same hole/burrow where Flower’s young offspring were being nurtured and sheltered. Realizing the snake had disappeared into the same hole where her young ones were kept, it became a situation that must be dealt or risk inevitable harm on the little ones. It was a moment that needed no further hesitation on the part of Flower’s clan if their vulnerable young ones stood any chance of survival around a desperate venomous cobra. As was expected, Flower took the next bold step to take on the devil itself – the snake, and save her fragile new born. That bold attempt turned out to be her last. The reptile under the cover of darkness in that dim hole, dealt her a deadly bite on the head that would quieten her forever.
It happened as fast as a split second. As the pack of Meerkats charged towards the burrow spoiling for a fight to besiege and mob the cobra out of their burrow, Flower got in before any other. Others stopped just by the mouth of the burrow and took strategic defensive positions. A few others poked their heads into the burrow opening, making tentative movements as if to tail behind their leader flower, but decided otherwise and retraced their steps preferring to stand in hope for a victorious Flower to re-emerge later with the dead snake. There was a palpable air of unpredictability and anxiety.
Flower was already in anyway, and may or may not come out alive, but the pack outside hoped for the former not the latter. Carefully tip toe-ing her way into the recess of the burrow and mindful of the danger of a lurking venomous cobra, she could only be as brave as her instincts work. But it seemed against the odds that she would spot the snake first and single handedly take it on. The safety of her young litter was no doubt an uppermost motive and drive as she inched further and further into the darker recess. The cobra was also poised for an attack as its only way out of being mobbed by rampaging Meerkats. It has found itself in a wrong hole and was ready to strike if threatened. And that was what happened. Aware of the advancing movement towards it and with the benefit of Flower’s blind spot, it struck and all went ominously quiet.
The dying heroic Flower managed to crawl out of the hole bitten, subdued, with a swollen forehead mustering only a faint strength to stay alive and laid helplessly by her burrow, separated from her once close knit members who could do nothing than cluster and watch with sombre laden eyes as their all sufficient mother succumbs gradually to the pangs of lifelessness.
I became so uncomfortable about the whole scenario. I didn’t want Flower to die just like that. Actors don’t die in a film. She was the whole sense of the documentary as far as I was concerned; taking Flower out of the picture was like taking out the whole picture. There was nothing more to see without Flower, so I thought. It was so out of place to see her go. I didn’t think much lay ahead of the Whiskers in terms of clout and survival prospect in the hazardous Kalahari terrain. I thought The Lazuli and other poaching and menacing Meerkat rivals of hers will find them now, an easy target without Flower. I reasoned that the directors of the series could have intervened one way or the other and prevent the main character from dying. But lo, it didn’t happen that way.
That unexpected twist changed everything about the Meerkat Manor as far as I was concerned and it left some sourness in my heart as it did leave a dark cloud of silence amongst the whiskers who’d just witness their hero fall. As that particular episode ended with a fitting tribute to Flower by the narrator, it left me wondering how much I’ll miss her presence and how the Whiskers family would survive without Flower in the treacherous Kalahari Desert and the next episode didn’t bring as much longing as the ones before, but I managed to watch it anyway.
Flower’s exit from the stage seared a sadness in me that wouldn’t immediately go away. I had become so unconsciously drawn to Flowers’ Meerkat hustle over the time I began watching the series that I rooted for her at all times at the expense of other Meerkat groups. I had seen her take charge and drive a large family, wisely and against all odds manage to keep them together in one accommodation and satisfaction. I had seen her at her best and at her skin-of-the-teeth victories over competitive adversaries. I had seen her all through and developed a following for her that I was so without awareness conditioned to ‘feel’ attached should somehow, something not envisaged happen. And that was how it turned out with Flower’s unfortunate end.
Things had to follow its destined sequence. Just like life, it is inevitable that everything created and living will someday either be staying, advancing or leaving. The documentary did not however end as I thought with Flower’s death neither did the Whiskers loose out in the Kalahari survival grind like my mind projected. It didn’t even need a ‘College of Meerkat Cardinals’ or a room full of ‘Whiskers Super Delegates’ so to speak to quickly rethink their situation and elevate one of them to fill her position. They didn’t need to have two-third support or wait to form a quorum to get a successor to Flower. No, they didn’t bicker at all. The transition was so seamless; it didn’t even take a five minute gap for a worthy Flower protégé to emerge from the pack to assume leadership and reign as the Whiskers opened another epoch in the Meerkat Manor experience. For me it has just been a case of an unnecessary emotion preventing a necessary motion.
Some times in our life we find ourselves unnecessarily attached to certain situations or conditions around us that we tend to resist any sudden shift from the known to the unknown, when such unknown could potentially offer something better and brighter. I have heard people say that the devil you are acquainted with is better than an angel from nowhere. That in my own opinion is pure human judgement which is always fraught with limitations and stop lines. Our capacity to reach the other side and advance to higher rung in the ladder of life is not in any way connected to any form of inertia. Suddenly or calculated, things must change for things not to remain the way they always are. The cycle of life of any living thing created by God shows nothing other than progression, the next phase is faithfully the better phase even when accompanied with thorny, unsavory signs.
The richest and the very iconic and most achieved people on God’s earth are people who have taken the leap of faith and expanded their vision, People that have left one horizon for another. The difference between a comfort zone and a conquer zone is the movement therein. I come across daily people who are scared to move, who are frightened of change that they have become so comfortable even in adversity, in routine and in meaninglessness. Life situations sometimes can be very optical and pleasing to the senses but might not be the real and the ideal. Just like the Meerkat Manor story I found myself biased in and almost unreceptive to any other situation arising thereby, life provides us such situations of milk and lemon and a wise man or woman settle not for that lest he or she misses the opportunity of making out of them, a milkshake or a lemonade. Take your chance and don’t resist change, for such is life. Thanks for reading
Love you all