In the past couple of months several of the groups have had pups. Meerkats can give birth at any time of the year however most mating usually occurs after the first rain of the season when males split off from their natal groups and go “roving” in search of unrelated females. Meerkat pregnancies are roughly two months long which coincides with peak invertebrate abundance after a bout of rain. The pups born in the last month were probably conceived after a couple of days light rain that we had here in July. July is in the middle of winter here in the Kalahari which is usually the dry season however as last summer was almost a complete drought the brief showers out of season have caused the first births to occur fairly early this year.
Dominant females often evict the older subordinate females in the early stages of pregnancy to reduce the risk of infanticide. The stress caused by eviction may cause any pregnant subordinates to abort which will stop any subordinate litters competing with the dominant’s.
Subordinate females do occasionally raise successful litters but usually only in good years where there is enough food to go around and the dominant already has a successful litter or when the dominant is not pregnant for some reason. In the later stages of pregnancy dominant females also become very aggressive towards subordinates and steal a lot of their food items so subordinate litters often consist of fewer pups that weigh less than a dominant’s litter.
Meerkats usually give birth overnight in a burrow and dominants usually will go foraging with the group the next day leaving behind a subordinate babysitter to look after the pups. Apart from lactating, dominant females usually contribute relatively little to pup care leaving most of the work to subordinates. Unusually for a cooperatively breeding species subordinates can also lactate for a dominants litter even if she hasn’t been pregnant
Meerkat litters are between one and five but as many as seven has been recorded. Meerkat pups will usually stay in the burrow for about two weeks before emerging above ground. They will then stay at the burrow for another week or two before going foraging with the group.
Once foraging with the group the pups will be fed prey items by members of the group, often with stings or mouth parts removed by an adult. They will then gradually learn to forage for themselves and should be fully independent by three months of age when they will be classed as a juvenile rather than a pup.