Submitted on Monday, June 07 @ 14:49:10 SAST by Grant
MEERKAT MANSION - THE MEERKAT MAGIC VALLEY RESERVE - ACCOMMODATION OUDTSHOORN WESTERN CAPE SOUTH AFRICA - The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project and The Meerkat Magic Valley is proudly located around Oudtshoorn, Western Cape of South Africa - guests can now stay with us at our own accommodation at our Research base on site - The Meerkat Mansion!
MEERKAT MANSION - SELF CATERING AND CAMPING GROUND ACCOMMODATION AND RESEARCH BASE OUDTSHOORN WESTERN CAPE SOUTH AFRICA
THE MEERKAT MANSION RESEARCH BASE IN THE MEERKAT MAGIC VALLEY RESERVE OFFERS LIMITED SELF CATERING ACCOMMODATION AND CAMPING ON OUR PROPERTY IN OUDTSHOORN WESTERN CAPE SOUTH AFRICA - WHEN YOU VIST WILD AND FREE MEERKATS / SURICATES YOU CAN STAY WITH US!
Accommodation that helps to fund behavioral research run by The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project - we offer self catering accommodation (limited spaces - but camping is also available) at The Meerkat Mansion (previously closed to the public and only open to research assistants).
By staying in The Meerkat Magic Valley Reserve beyond the rush of town and surrounded by beautiful views of mountains - your accommodation costs directly fund wildlife and habitat conservation work!
Join the Wild and Free Meerkat / Suricate Conservation Cause with The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project and make a real difference to conservation of them and their natural habitat.
All International Meerkat Friendly Supporters are invited to be listed on our official Wild and Free Meerkat / Suricate Conservation Cause Page - by telling your friends about our conservation cause we can reach many more supporters of Wild and Free Meerkats / Suricates and really make a sustained difference to their conservation and their habitat preservation - please press the following link: Press here to be listed as part of the Wild and Free Meerkat / Suricate Conservation Cause!
I (Grant M. Mc Ilrath - A.K.A - The Meerkat Man) was born on 03 March 1973.
I have grown up loving nature in its entirety. This is largely due to my parents. I spent many years studying how to solve interpretative problems at The Estelle Mc Ilrath Art School. Through this special art training awareness an appreciation of the natural world was instilled within me when I was still a child.
I was taught how to interpret what I saw in an artistic manner, how to not just look, but to see the intricacy of life from the smallest to the greatest. I learned how to question everything and to seek the answers. This helped lay the basis for my analytical training for research and observations, and interpretation of wildlife behaviour and cognition.
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I learned that many people are actually alientated from the natural world, but live removed from it in an artificial environment. I chose to discover the natural world and my part in it.
Being immersed in nature on a daily basis provides me with a window into myself, a marvellous opportunity for introspection and understanding.
Mongooses for most of my life have fascinated me. I would spend many hours observing them in the zoo where I volunteered for many years, after school and on weekends.
I was raised with countless different animals, as my parents are very fond of animals, and caring for injured creatures and rehabilitating them for release. I have always found it normal to communicate with animals. I discovered that animals seem to have a universal language - that once understood grants special insights and privilege's into their lives - an integral process in earning their complete trust using habituation techniques.
I wondered what it would be like to see the mongooses in the zoos that I had visited, living their lives in freedom in the wilderness.
I studied nature conservation after finishing school. I took on a challenge, to attempt to alter perceptions by creating an awareness and appreciation of nature in others, and through education create a desire to conserve. Ignorance is the nemesis of conservation I believe, and by creating a desire to learn - ignorance can be overcome with enlightenment.
I chose the nature conservation course because it concentrated on the "hands on" practical approaches to conservation, working in the field the majority of the time. I qualified and obtained my National Diploma in nature conservancy, and realised a primary goal in my dream.
Originally I started doing behavioural observations of meerkats back in 1991 whilst studying my conservation course - it was an assignment that I had, and I had chosen the suricate. Nobody else could do research on the same species according to the task set. I was fascinated and infatuated with the suricate from the moment I saw them up close. I had of course seen other meerkat footage over the years, but I had never really studied them up close.
I visited a number of Zoos and began a comparative analysis between captive meerkats and their alarm calls and anti-predation behaviour, comparing it to literature on wild meerkats. I became fascinated by the "language" of meerkats, and decided that I really wished to learn it. Meerkats use a "vocabulary" of over 20 different sounds. I now finally feel like I understand what meerkats "talk about". And wild meerkats understand me when I imitate their calls. In fact the use of calls has become an essential component in my habituation techniques.
I then accepted a position as an assistant staff member, at the Mammal Research Institute (M.R.I.) directed at the time by the very well known scientist Prof. John. D. Skinner (please refer to the book: "The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion") at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and later I became one of the senior assistants there. I needed to be employed as a staff member through this institute to work as a full time field assistant for Cambridge University Zoology Department and Large Animal Research Group in England.
The offer to observe wild meerkats as a career and develop techniques to get them to trust me and then collect all manner of data on them, was instantly what I had always wanted!
I would be required to help establish and manage a project on meerkats (suricates) in the southern Kalahari and perform and develop numerous other skills. This would involve developing unique habituation techniques for these animals for very close unbiased observation - the entire success of the research project would be dependent on this habituation success or failure. I would later learn to use a portable ultrasonic scanner to measure foetal development, take hormonal samples and DNA, and design and build custom radio telemetry amongst many other tasks.
The project would be part of an international behavioural study, investigating the evolutionary significance of altruism in a co-operative breeding mammal, among numerous other questions.
An insight and management model, could possibly be created from data collected by this research project to better assist in the conservation of another co- operatively breeding mammal, whose populations had become endangered - the wild dog (Lycaon pictus).
Over a period of years from 1991 to September 2003, I have habituated hundreds of meerkats. I have spent more time working with wild meerkats than anybody else in the world.
An excerpt from a testimonial by my former employer, from Cambridge University England, concerning my meerkat habituation techniques on the international research project "The habituation of this first group laid the basis for the successful research project which has developed and was a direct consequence of Grant's persistence."
I trained PhD students and postdoctoral researchers and most of the volunteer's and other assistants on this international project to work with the meerkats using my specialised habituation techniques from 1991 to 2000.
It was over the period from 1991 to 2000 that I realised how important the sharing of my experiences in nature with others was and is - meerkats have been the interface with nature that has allowed this. I acted as scientific consultant and tour guide to many international friends and visitors to my habituated meerkats over many years, on a non-profit basis. These visitors included vets, other researchers, farmers, Professors, Doctors, school children, and pre school children and many others too. But there was always one persistent factor - no matter who visited the meerkats with me, they had to respect the animals and use the habituation techniques of mine in order to experience wild meerkats.
The habituation was primarily required so that unbiased data could be collected on the meerkats normal behaviour patterns. It was also however in place to ensure that only those select few researchers would ever be able to approach the animals, or those who accompanied the researchers. And in their absence the animals would be totally wild and untrusting. I developed habituation techniques for the protection of the wild animals I studied.
Without the respect and care needed in habituation of wildlife for very close selective trust observation opportunities, ultimately they will be no better than zoo animals who are just tame exhibiting unselective trust.
Tame meerkats are nothing like wild meerkats. It would be the same as saying that a tame dog behaved the same as a wild wolf. When the highly selective habituation techniques are in place, wild animals are not influenced by the observers presence but remain wild. Walking your dog is not the same experience as walking with wolves, and nor is having a tame meerkat the same as working with or walking with wild habituated meerkats as at The Meerkat Magic Project!
In 1997 I travelled to Uganda in central Africa to compare habituation techniques on a well known gregarious mongoose, the banded mongoose (Mungos sp.) to the habituation techniques I had developed with the meerkats, and make possible suggestions.
During my visit to Uganda I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to also witness the habituation techniques used for observations of the Chimpanzee in the Kibali rainforest, and observe these incredible primates and the research being done on them.
Since 1992 my specialised habituation techniques have been used or have made possible most of the wildlife films and photographic articles on the wild habituated meerkat to date.
Although crucial to the success of such close observation for photographs, and research and film, my habituation techniques, although being original intellectual property, have not always been accordingly acknowledged.
I have seen the mutual joy in young and old people alike who I have shown the meerkats too. It is partly due to this individual experience that I feel compelled to allow as many people as possible to experience this magical trust from wildlife.
I have worked with numerous film crews and made their footage possible allowing them to experience the trust of the meerkats that I have habituated, and get very close to them.
I have worked with the following film companies in various capacities over the years since 1992.
Nature Vision with Richard Goss
Kia Downer Productions
National Geographic - filmed in 2000 and screened in 2001. This was the first film documenting the research project, with the professor from Cambridge University and myself appearing in the film, as scientists studying the Kalahari meerkats that I had habituated for seven years using my unique habituation techniques.
BBC Natural History, a documentary filmed in 2001, titled The Natural World: Meerkats, with Simon King as presenter, using my wildlife habituation techniques.
In October 2003 Meerkat Magic finished a new film project for Discovery Channel which was started in July 2002, in conjunction with presenter Nigel Marvin, and Image Impact and Wildthings at Meerkatmagic in the Western Cape near Oudtshoorn South Africa.
June 2004 Animal Planet films at Meerkat Magic.
For many years I have been invited to be a guest meerkat expert, answering questions on www.meerkats.net under E-mail an expert. The information about me is no longer up to date there, the E-mail address should be firstname.lastname@example.org for questions on meerkats.
Anybody is always welcome to ask me whatever they like on meerkats, and if I can assist them in anyway I am happy to do so. To me, any knowledge that is shared that enhances the respect and enjoyment of nature, is a task worth doing with passion and commitment!
From 2000 to mid 2002 I assisted with research on the yellow mongoose (Cynictis penicillata) while searching for my Meerkatmagic project site. Various banded mongoose, meerkat and yellow mongoose have been habituated using my habituation techniques, or adaptations to good effect.
Over the period of 2000 to 2002, while assisting with research on yellow mongoose, I tried to locate a totally unique and previously unstudied area with meerkats. I was fascinated by the apparent absence of the meerkats from the little Karoo. All the distribution maps I could locate showed their range ending along the large mountain ranges between the Great Karoo to the north of the little Karoo. After much research into vegetation maps and changes over many years in flora, I suspected that there could be a chance that meerkats did indeed occur in the little Karoo.
The reason for this suspicion of mine was partly due to the climate in the little Karoo, and also the presence of certain vegetation types there. These vegetation types are mainly found in the Great Karoo, where meerkats are abundant. I suspected an oversight in the distribution maps. They all seemed to preclude any sightings of meerkats south of the mountains.
After over a year of research and questions, I finally, through the generous and kind help of a local farmer: Mr. Francois Burger from Oudtshoorn and kind reference and advice from Mr. Gys Lamprecht saw my first subspecies of meerkat in the little Karoo. What a fantastic experience it was to see them! It had been such a long search for what seemed just a foolish hope.
The Meerkat Magic Project is named because of that magical first sighting experience, that Meerkat Magic, from seeing an animal not "supposed" to exist in the area. And I thank Francois and other inhabitants of Oudtshoorn for their support and enthusiasm in helping me locate my dream.
After further ongoing investigation I discovered that meerkats had been sighted more than twenty years ago in the area, but few people seemed aware of them. The earliest sightings were along riverbanks. An aim of mine is to do research on the distribution of meerkats in the small Karoo, and discover their history.
I have been studying the behavior of wild meerkats in their natural habitat in Africa, and domesticity since 1991. They fascinate me. I am especially interested to learn about the way they perceive their environment and how they actually learn.
In order to accomplish this research on wild meerkats, without their behaviour being influenced by my presence, I have developed unique habituation techniques that enable me to gain the trust of wildlife over a long period of time.
Once habituated, these wild animals will only allow me to approach them, or those who use my habituation codes/techniques. The animals are never tamed, but only become tolerant and trust certain people who use the habituation techniques.
Observers of wildlife who do not use these habituation techniques do so unethically, as they accustom wildlife to human observers, and this allows anybody to approach these animals and if desired harm them. They in fact tame the animals to allow indiscriminate observation/interaction with people, often without even realising this will happen!
If such animals where to be harmed by people, they will then also lose any trust they had of the researchers. With my habituation techniques, without the use of the proper communication, the wildlife will not allow anybody near them. And if something negative was to happen to habituated wildlife using my techniques, the animals will relax and allow me to approach them, because they always trust the habituation techniques.
An example would be of a poacher who may kill or capture some wildlife I have habituated. The animals now fear all people. But when they hear my habituation techniques like calls and see my movements, they still allow me to approach them, because the poacher who scared them/killed them never used my special techniques, and there is therefore no negative association towards the habituation techniques.
The integrity of the wildlife is preserved and the ethical approach to wildlife observation is ensured.
And once fully habituated, I am able to observe the natural behavior of wildlife and collect data on them, without them even being disturbed by me. Ethically, if I was never to work with these habituated animals again, nobody could get near them, unless I taught them how to use the habituation techniques. The animals remain wild.
I use special calls, body movements and tactile and olfactory senses to communicate with wildlife. Each species I have worked with requires special understanding of their unique behavior, and communication types, so that I can modify my habituation techniques accordingly.
Some of my future interests for wildlife habituation include a number of nocturnal species - this will be very challenging, but will allow visitors to follow wildlife with The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project at night too, after enjoying a sunset with meerkats and other diurnal species.
To read another more recent article about Grant M. Mc Ilrath- The Meerkat Man and The Meerkat Magic Project please press the following link: Press here.
READ GUEST COMMENTS AND SEE PICTURES OF THEM ON WILD MEERKAT TOURS!
To view pictures of The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project Supporters/ Guests from around the world watching wild meerkats / suricates on their exclusive tours and to read their comments on their experiences, simply click the image in the gallery for a larger picture, which can then be sent as a free e-card with music, at the following link press here.
Included are a number of Testimonials from Cambridge University
and The University of Pretoria, Kruger National Park and a well known film
producer. Often Grant's Wildlife habituation techniques have not been acknowledged in
research and films, but they use these techniques to allow them to get close to
These testimonials are just a statement to all those who make
use of these techniques without acknowledging their original source, of the
intellectual property rights of these techniques, in the past and future with
regards to Wildlife habituation insights developed by Grant M. Mc Ilrath for
very close and unobtrusive research on Wild animals.
Hardcover; 240 pages; photographs of the Kalahari meerkats and the Little Karoo meerkats; Publisher New Holland Publishers, 2016
ISBN 1921517654, 9781921517655
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