Meerkats are my absolute favourites!
Wish you could have a few
of them as pets!

After studying meerkats in the Kalahari for the
past 10 years, Dr Alex Thornton and colleagues
from the University of Cambridge's Department
of Zoology found that some groups of
meerkats always got up later out of
their sleeping burrows than
their neighbours.

These differences appear to have been
maintained as local traditions, with
patterns of behaviour in different
groups being spread by
learning from others.

Studying social traditions among animals in
the wild is difficult because it is hard to
prove that differences in behaviour are
due to the social spread of information
rather than genetics or environmental
factors. This is the first time such
traditional patterns of daily activity
have been observed in animals
outside the laboratory.

According to Dr Thornton: "Studies of animal
traditions are essential for understanding the
biological origins of human culture. Because
most previous studies examined groups of
animals separated by large distances it has
been extremely difficult to work out whether
behavioural differences between groups
really are traditions, or whether they
might be better explained by genetic
differences or differences
in the local ecology."

Dr Thornton's study site in the Kalahari Desert
is shared by fifteen meerkat groups with
overlapping territories, and group
differences in getting-up time could
not be explained by differences
in ecological conditions.

And as male meerkats always breed outside
the group that they were born into, genes
get shuffled between groups, so genetic
factors are unlikely to account for
group differences.

"We found that new immigrants adopted the
behaviour of their new groups and that
differences between groups were maintained
despite groups changing in size and structure
as old members died and new ones
were born," says Dr Thornton.

"So it seems that, like afternoon tea or an
apéritif before dinner, meerkat getting-up
times are local traditions passed
down through the generations."

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