The “Life History” is a database where the details of the life histories of our meerkats groups are stored. The aim of maintaining a Life History file is to keep a record of births, emigrations, changes in dominance and other important events in the life of each individual and the group. This is essential for keeping track of the groups through time and comparing the survival/mortality rates of different types of individual or group.
Observation data are entered into a Psion handheld device by the researchers while they visit meerkat groups. During or after each visit to a group it is noted whether all the group members were present (and who was missing), and if any life history events occurred:
- FSEEN – first time a new (non-natal) individual or group is seen or identified
- SOES – start or end of oestrus (mate-guarding, mating, frequent chattering at males)
- FPREG – first sign of pregnancy (bulging tummy, protruding nipples, consistent weight gain)
- EPREG – abortion or miscarriage of a litter (sudden weight loss or blood around vulva)
- BIRTH – mother giving birth
- BORN – birth of an individual, birth of a litter
- SLAC/ELAC – start or end of lactation (pups suckling, erect nipples, suckle marks i.e. matted fur around nipples)
- EMERGE – emergence of pups (first time pups seen at burrow mouth)
- 1STMV – first time pups move sleeping burrow
- 1STFO – first time pups forage with the group
- LOST – litter is lost (pups did not emerge, or were found dead before actively emerging)
- EM/IMM – emigrations of individuals out of a group, or immigrations into a group
- LEFT/RETURN – animals absent from their own group (even if only for a few hours), but not longer than 3 weeks
- GRPSPLT – divided groups that spent the night apart
- APPROACH/DEPART- meerkat/s approaching, following or being chased by, a group
- GRPENC – one group meeting another (even if they only just look at each other)
- APPEAR/DISAPPEAR- absent group members attempting to rejoin their own group
- DOMBID – fights over dominance
- SDOM/EDOM- start and end of dominance
- REMOVE/TRANSLOCATE- all artificial removals, releases or translocations
- LSEEN – adult individual or entire group is absent for longer than one month, and thus considered lost. Lseen date is last time an adult individual or entire group was seen.
- APRED – “assumed predated”, used when a pup, juvenile or subadult is last seen (body not found)
- DEAD – death of an animal of any age (body found and identified)
An example taken from the Young Ones life history file can be seen here (link to Young Ones life history excerpt). The full Life History Database currently features approx. 50.000 sets of data, or summaries of observations.
Other data in the Project’s Meerkat Database include:
- Diary file – lists who observed which group when and where, what animals were present, and if there was something special to note (injuries, encounters etc.)
- Burrow use/weights file – file of all meerkat weighing data, and the burrows where weights were determined
- Urine and fecal samples file – lists the samples taken
- Ad-lib and focal experiments file – data from ad-lib sampling (e.g. observation of helper behaviour, vocalisations, marking, sentinel duty etc.) and focal experiments
- Babysitting and feeding file – lists the identity of babysitters, as well as observations from pup feeding, inclusive feeding experiments.
- Genetical data – The project tries to establish maternity and paternity of each pup by genetical analysis.