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  Field Notes From

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On Assignment
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From Author

Tim Clutton-Brock

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From Photographer

Mattias Klum

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Mattias Klum (top), and Lars-Magnus Ejdeholm


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Field Notes From Photographer
Mattias Klum
Best Worst Quirkiest

I’d been working for a couple of weeks near the Kuruman River in Kalahari, getting to know a gang of meerkats. When the dominant male and female went foraging for food, they left their pups with appointed babysitters. Some of the babysitters were so shy of me that when I approached the burrow, they slipped down the hole, and I couldn’t get any work done. But one of the babysitters began to accept me and let me crawl on my stomach toward the den. The reward was a picture of a little pup cuddled up with tons of fur around him. It was one of the nicest photographs I captured.

Meerkats don’t stand very tall so this was a crawling-on-your-stomach assignment. I was near a den of newborn pups. Usually the burrows are infested with fleas and lice, but to get pictures I needed to be as close as possible. As a result, I got covered with fleas and lice. I itched like hell for a week.

Anal marking is a common behavior among meerkats. They mark each other with their anal glands so that they can recognize each other by smell. It’s also a form of social bonding. During the assignment I got closer and closer to the meerkats each day. One day a gang of meerkats came extraordinarily close to me. I guess I didn’t smell good enough to them, so a couple of them started marking my boots. Nice gesture, but what a rank smell!

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