Scientists Learn To ‘Talk’ To Cute Meerkats Using Recordings Of The Noises They Make

Cute pack of meerkats assembles after a scientist plays their distinctive cry of warning on a small loudspeaker for research purposes.

In the footage from Zurich Zoo from 20th September obtained by Newsflash, Zurich University researcher Nikola Falk stands in the middle of the adorable visitor favourites’ outdoor enclosure.

When Nikola starts the short recording, the attentive pack immediately responds by issuing high-pitched barks as they gather.

Zurich Zoo, Nicole Schnyder, UZH Faculty of Science, billionwords, Designers’ Club/Newsflash

Some of the meerkats can be seen positioning themselves on guard duty by standing on their hind legs to scour the landscape for danger and potential predators.

A few moments later, the group slowly disperses again.

Nikola explained: “In this project, we are studying the reactions of meerkats to the different types of warning cries.”

She added: “Their alarm system is highly sophisticated. They produce barks to make aware of winged predators but also terrestrial enemies.”

The researcher from Zurich University’s Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, explained: “There are different types of cries regarding their urgency.

“However, they also react to warnings issued from other species in their habitat.”

Image shows student Anja Diefenbacher studying the development of the calling repertoire in young meerkats, undated photo. The research takes place at the Zurich Zoo, Switzerland. (Zurich Zoo, Nicole Schnyder/Newsflash)
Image shows a researcher at the Kalahari Research Centre, South Africa, undated photo. The study focuses on meerkats’ behaviour. (University of Zurich, Dominik Behr/Newsflash)

Nikola said: “We want to study it all in the wild as well as in different zoos. Our goal is to determine any potential differences as far as their reaction are concerned.”

Uni Zurich Biologist Anja Diefenbacher, who is also involved in the study, explained that little is known about the various types of warning cries and whether there are differences from pack to pack.

The researcher said: “We aim to find out more about how the cries of the young animals are developing.

“One of the main questions is whether they combine different calls or create new ones as they grow up.

Anja added: “We also want to determine whether young meerkats have their own calls. What we do know is that they express so-called ‘begging calls’ which are never heard from grown-up meerkats.”

Image shows a young meerkat, undated photo. Researchers study how the species communicate at the Zurich Zoo, Switzerland. (Zurich Zoo, Enzo Franchini/Newsflash)

Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) are a type of mongoose found in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Their slender bodies are 25 to 35 centimetres (10 to 14 in) long. Measuring 18 to 25 centimetres (seven to 10 in), the tail of a meerkat is almost as long as its body.

Meerkats are highly vigilant and frequently observe their surroundings by turning their heads side to side while some members of their groups stand sentry.

Meerkat groups can consist of up to 30 individuals. However, the average size of a pack ranges between 10 and 15 animals.

Vocal communication plays a big role in the lives of these highly social creatures.

Image shows meerkats guarding the site, undated photo. Researchers are studying the animals’ behaviour at the Zurich Zoo, Switzerland. (Zurich Zoo, Nicole Schnyder/Newsflash)

To find out more about the author, editor or agency that supplied this story – please click below.
Story By: Thomas HochwarterSub-Editor: Michael Leidig, Agency: Newsflash

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