Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Meerkats and Ostriches

One thing we've noticed with traveling: All the cool things seem to take place first thing in the morning. So, it wasn't surprising to find ourselves waking up at the crack of dawn yet again. This time, we were on our way to meet up with Grant M.Mc Ilrath, AKA "the Meerkat Man."

As his website says:

"Grant M. Mc Ilrath - A.K.A - The Meerkat Man has spent more time working with wild meerkats (over 12 years in 2005), then anybody else in the world, and on two subspecies.

He has co-authored, numerous scientific publications (over 14 with Cambridge University Britain, University of Pretoria South Africa). Recent wildlife documentary film experience, includes work with National Geographic, BBC and Discovery Channel. Meerkat Manor and various other films on meerkats / suricates were made possible by the initial establishment of study groups by Grant M. Mc Ilrath - A.K.A - The Meerkat Man as detailed in included testimonials."

Currently, Grant's main project is Meerkat Magic. With Meerkat Magic, he takes small groups of tourists out into the fields outside of Oudtshoorn, South Africa. There, he has a small community of Meerkats that he has acclimated to his presence. And there you watch the Meerkats up close. Very up close.

The morning starts with you sitting in lawn chairs near their dens, as Grant talks about them and the sun slowly rises. Then, about the same time you're convinced that the Meerkats aren't going to show, they start to appear.

Most people are familiar with Meerkats only because of Timon from the Lion King. But, actual Meerkats are highly sociable mammels in the same family as Mongooses. They live in small matriarchal family groups, and (very endearingly) stand on two legs to sun themselves.

Anyhow, after the Meerkats awaken and sun themselves (just a few feet away from where we sit), they began to run around and hunt for food, with us following close behind. Thew whole time, the Meerkat Man is telling us about their lives and habits, while occasionally making cooing and purring noises and swirling his hands to calm the nearby meerkats. The whole situation was surreal and wonderful. And, literally, it was a one of a kind experience since that particular subspecies is only found in that valley... and never lets humans get that close to them.

Unfortunately, since the Meerkat Man has an agreement with National Geographic, we were unable to take pictures ourselves. He took several for us, but has yet to upload them to his website. So, until then, I'll just share some picture of me riding an ostrich...


After Meerkat Magic, Sarah and I went to an ostrich farm where we took a tour. Part of the tour was allowing people to try riding an ostrich. You had to be under 75 kilos though to ride one, so that ruled out the well-feed South African family that was on the tour with us. So, it fell on my shoulders to demonstrate the fine art of ostrich riding.

The put a bag over the ostriches head while you climb on. Ostriches are so massively stupid that they basically can't function when they have a bag over their head.

Once the bag comes off, the ostrich suddenly realizes it has a human sitting on its back, and takes off running. I had to hold onto its wings, with my legs hooked over its knees and "leaned back like I'm riding a Harley."

The rest of tour was interesting too. We got to try standing on ostrich eggs and watched a short ostrich race.

Sarah stands on an ostrich egg. Another guy in our tour group weighed about three times as much as Sarah, and he was able to stand on them without them breaking.

The ostrich race. I could have beaten these guys.

After a day of ostriches and meerkats, we hit the road again. Our next stop was Stellenboch... wine country!


ambika said...

Ok, maybe *some* people don't know about meerkats but maybe those people don't watch 'Meerkat Manor' on Animal Planet.

Also? Pictures of Tyler riding an ostrich *will* make me spontaneously burst out laughing.

Rick said...

Ok Sarah's wonderful discription of the wine country and the great pictures of the sun setting as you sipped wine with fellow travelers from around the world / cut to Tyler with a beard riding an ostrich it puts it all in perspective.