Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eye on the Sky

Humans have given the meerkat a "cute" persona. It's not hard to see why. Intelligent-looking, playful and adept at sitting and standing upright (which tends to make people go "awww"), they are real crowd-pleasers at any zoo.

The reality is a bit different. Like most social animals there are pecking orders, infighting and intrigues within the community that makes Peyton Place look tame. But it is the upright stance that is the darker-tinged characteristic. Instead of the quizzical-looking gaze of a cuddly, carefree creature it is the alert watchfulness of the group's early warning system. Small, furry creatures make tasty meals for larger predators.

As if to drive this point home, while I was shooting portraits of this meerkat, a red-tailed hawk drifted overhead, buoyed by the thermals off the hills of Griffith Park. In short order the alarm was given and the colony scattered for cover in the nooks and crannies of their compound, emerging a short time later when the coast was clear.

Situational awarness wins again.

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