This week we’ve spoken with Erin, a camera-wielding yoga teacher, a traveller, and a wine lover. We spoke to her about her adventures in South Africa and how she found wild Meerkats. If you want to find out more about Erin and her travels, you can find her over at Sol Salute, where she shares her stories.
We’ve spoken briefly about your animal encounters while on the road, which have been your favourite to see in their natural environment and why?
Seeing meerkats in the wild in South Africa was such a unique experience. I’ve always loved meerkats (who doesn’t?) and to watch them wake up before going off the forage for the day was amazing. This particular family (or gang of meerkats) has been slowly exposed to the guides who study their behaviour. They are used to these men’s presence but the men (and tours) never interact. They only observe so the animals are left to live their lives in the most natural way while still contributing to learning more about their behaviours.
How did it make you feel, being able to see wild Meerkat up close in their own home?
The tour group is set up in lawn chairs in a semi-circle only a few meters from the burrow. We were arranged with the sun to our backs, so when the meerkats came up for the day and they faced the sun to warm their bellies, they’d be facing us. Being able to be so close to them was such a great feeling, to see animals in a zoo can be upsetting. But to see them free, living their lives like they’re meant to, nothing can beat that.
Did you experience this encounter with a tour? What made you choose that particular company?
Yes, the only way to see meerkats in the wild is with a tour, and this tour (Meerkat Adventures in Oudtshoorn) is the only tour that doesn’t interfere with the animals in any way. This was the main selling point for me.
Had you seen them before in a zoo/sanctuary? How did it compare?
I have seen them in a zoo and it doesn’t even compare. Seeing animals in the confinements of a zoo is more upsetting to me than exciting. The days where a zoo was necessary to see wild animals are far in the past. We have television, the internet and travel is much more accessible. There is no longer any need to cage these beasts for our entertainment.
Animal tourism has become a big thing over the years. Have you had any experiences that looking back on, you feel weren’t very ethical, you perhaps wouldn’t do again or any that you wouldn’t recommend to other, what was it and why?
Most of my experiences that I would take back if I could, were from when I was a child, but we didn’t know any better 30 years ago. Should we have? Probably. I know that my children will never visit a zoo or Sea World, all we can do is focus on the future.
What advice would you give other travellers looking to see Meerkat in the wild for themselves?
Do your research. Make sure and triple check that the tour you’re booking really is ethical. Where there’s a demand for tourism, there will be people trying to take advantage. Make sure that the guides are treating the animals properly and not exploiting them.
Do you have any advice on being an ethical traveller?
Take nothing but memories. Leave nothing but footprints.
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