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“There’s this exciting sense of anticipation in the air as you wait for the meerkats to wake up. You get there before sunrise and the ‘meerkat whisperer’, who knows exactly which burrow the meerkats have slept in the night before, points it out to you and then you wait for them to come out and start their day,” Ryan says with a glint in his eye, fondly remembering what he calls, “one of the best trips of my life.”
Ryan is Rhino Africa’s Creative Director and recently visited Jack’s Camp in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans to capture the meerkat experience with the video team. Due to an ongoing habituation programme at places like Jack’s Camp, it’s possible for guests to get up close and personal with these captivating creatures. They are completely wild but they are also used to the visitor’s non-threatening presence. On chilly mornings, you might find a meerkat snuggling up to you for warmth, or in the absence of a termite mound or tree, using your head as a sentry lookout post. It’s one of the most special and memorable game experiences you can encounter in Botswana.“You keep your distance and as the sun starts peeking its golden rays from over the horizon, the meerkats poke their heads out to have a quick look to see if everything is safe. The little meerkat head pops up and then goes back in, and then he pokes his head out again. He immediately stands sentry, standing up on his back legs, to make sure there are no predators nearby and then the entire mob starts to slowly make their way out.
“It’s very interesting to see how much they interact first thing in the morning with each other and how playful they are. We were lucky enough to see meerkats with pups play wrestling, running around, making their unique sounds and warming up before they go out hunting.”
Ryan and the media team spent two days with the meerkats filming and photographing them and one of the videos they captured was a fascinating ‘Virtual Safari’ video of the meerkat waking up in the morning. This 360° video allows viewers to navigate around the area, allowing the viewer to feel as if they are actually there. With a VR headset the experience is heightened and feels as close as possible to the real thing.
“We pride ourselves on being at the forefront of travel and technology, and so we’re always looking to try new things. With the rise of 360° videos, we knew we could use this to capture the special wildlife encounters we are lucky to experience. It’s a very engaging space to be in, you can look up and down and around and we encourage people to explore to zoom in and look around. The great thing with 360° is that you can watch something a few times and keep on discovering new things to see,” Ryan explains. “We used a gorilla pod, which is a very strong and flexible tripod and covered it with grass. We made it look like one of the mounds. It can be quite tricky as your role has to shift from director to choreographer as there is no ‘behind the lens’. When the little guys started coming out of their burrow they came to the camera right away and immediately started digging at the camera. It couldn’t have worked out better, we captured them playing and biting each other mischievously. We were very lucky and it makes for very engaging and special content. It really makes you feel like you’re part of the mob and you’re able to see how they interact with no humans around.”
Ryan pauses for a few moments, staring out the window and thinking back to the experience, “I’ve been on a lot of safaris and it was one of those experiences that really filled me with glee. There’s no other way to say it. It was just special. It has a similar feeling to a walking safari. Meerkats are amazing creatures and to get up that close to them is a remarkable experience.”
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Matt discovered a passion for writing in the six years he spent travelling abroad. He worked for a turtle sanctuary in Nicaragua, in an ice cream factory in Norway and on a camel safari in India. He was a door-to-door lightbulb-exchanger in Australia, a pub crawl guide in Amsterdam and a journalist in Colombia. Now, he writes and travels with us.
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