Meerkat Magic Presentation for Junior Schools

Grant McIlrath (researcher and conservationist) & Mandy Young (psychotherapist and eco-therapist) are offering you a unique presentation

Facts about wild meerkats - that fascinating, sociable, cute animal with lots of attitude, as well as an ecotherapy experience that can be personally transforming.

Grant has observed, habituated and researched meerkats in the Kalahari desert for 7 years. He has been the facilitator of many research programs for Cambridge University and the University of Pretoria. The BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic have filmed several meerkat documentaries, from 1993 to the present, at sites that Grant has managed, because of his unique, self-learnt abilities to habituate a shy animal like the meerkat to a point of trust and acceptance where one is able to benefit from their habituation and walk amongst them. The habituation techniques are founded on 34 calls Grant solely recorded of meerkat communication and a careful consideration of their 51 different behaviors. His ability to habituate groups of meerkats has lead to an unsubstantiated precedent in the world where these wild animals can co-walk and continue with normal social and feeding behaviors along side our own human species. The process takes much determination and commitment, Grant has both. He is an unusual person, capable of scientific, logical and methodological thought as well as poetic creativity, vision and artistic ability that has won him many prizes. Both his parents were teachers! and hence in addition to all his commendable talents and abilities he is also a friendly, likeable person and a good communicator.

Grant has most recently habituated a group of meerkats in Oudtshoorn, a place where up until Grant's persistent discovery, no-body thought meerkats existed! Grant wants to tell you about these animals through replicated meerkat sounds and calls (he makes!), through visual video footage and specialized knowledge and sharing! Beyond that, he would like to invite grade 6 & 7 junior school children to share the unique experience of observing the meerkats themselves.

Mandy Young is a Cape Town psychotherapist with 26 years experience in dealing with children experiencing their parents' separation / divorce, she is the initiator of the 'Hurt to Hope' Divorce Adjustment Program; and she has worked with children who are hyperactive, have emotional and/or behavioral problems, children performing below their academic performance; those who have been physically or sexually abused, children in children's homes and those who have experienced the death of a parent or significant family member.

Over the last 11 years Mandy has observed different animal species with social behavior: wild dogs, elephants, dolphins and now meerkats. Mandy has discovered that different animals with social behavior make us aware of aspects of our own behavior we no longer make a part of our lifestyle. She identifies with a statement made by Marlow Morgan', the author of the book, 'Mutant Message Down Under', a book about early aborigine lifestyles:

“…animals show us that which is bedrock or cement in us: aggression, fear, insecurity, happiness or opportunity. Because they have the ability to read our involuntary tics and scents, we are transparent to them, and thus exposed – we are finally ourselves.”

Mandy learnt from wild dogs the need to nurture kinship bonds, very important in a society where families and communities are so divided. Elephants helped her understand more about mothering and how to become wise, connected with ancient wisdom and how to overcome difficult life challenges and obstructions. Dolphins facilitate a deep inner introspection as well as an amazing opportunity to play with great liberation and abandonment! "Meerkats", she says, "have a unique way of teaching us about how to get along with one another, how to be a team".

There are many programs that are attempting to teach children about the dangers of drug and alcohol usage, and the risks of contracting HIV / AIDS, Mandy believes that if you can teach children a sense of their own worth and self care, and relationship skills that facilitate meaningful community and family relationships, then they are very much less at risk to engage in these potentially life-threatening activities. Thus, the focus of Mandy's program with the meerkats is to help each child, in a group of 8 selected children, get to know and value themselves better; and to learn together as a group how to be a team, supporting and challenging one another like the meerkats.

Mandy and Grant combine their unique skills, expertise and experiences with a shared double vision towards seeing children grow, mature, heal and appreciate themselves as well as experience and conserve the world they live in. They would like these children, and others who spend time with the meerkats to preserve our world and conserve and protect the wonderful animal species that enhance our lives and teach us so much about how to best be ourselves, animals like the meerkats.

Edward Wilson, world renown biologist, so aptly expresses:

The human species has had some 3 million years of survival-programming in how to interact constructively with nature…love and connectedness with the natural world is rooted in our genes - as much a part of our history as love and bonding and having children. We know at a deep body-mind level, however dimly, that if we continue to reject this programming and do not establish a respectful interaction with nature, we will lose not only a vital dimension of our humanness, but eventually our planet home as a self-renewing, life-nurturing organism.