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  • Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) risk assessment for Australia. Amanda Page, Win Kirkpatrick and Marion Massam, May 2008, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia. 1

    RISK ASSESSMENT FOR AUSTRALIA Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) Schreber, 1776Class - Mammalia, Order - Carnivora, Family - Herpestidae (Bonaparte, 1845), Genus - Suricata (Desmarest,1804) (Wilson and Reeder 1993, ITIS Integrated Taxonomic Information System 2007, Catalogue of Life 2008)Score Sheet

    SPECIES: Meerkat (Suricata suricatta)

    Other common names include: Slender-tailed Meerkat , Suricate

    Synonyms:

    Suricata capensis

    Suricata majoriae

    Surikata viverrina

    Viverra suricatta

    Viverra tetradactyla

    Mus zenik

    (Wilson and Wilson 1976, van Staaden 1994).

    Subspecies:

    S. s. Iona

    S. s. marjoriae

    S. s. suricatta

    (van Staaden 1994, ITIS Integrated Taxonomic Information System2007, Catalogue of Life 2008).

    Species Description One of the smallest members of the Herpestidae. The species has a long,slender body, long, thin legs, and a relatively long, thin, hairy tail. Head and body length 24.5-35 cm,tail length 17.5-25 cm, average weight is 800 g, ranging from 620-970 g. Males and females are ofsimilar size. Colour varies considerably throughout the distributional range, and may be a light grizzledgrey, tan, or silvery-brown. The coat is soft, with long guard hairs (15-20 mm over most the body; 30-40mm on the flanks). The rear portion of the back is marked with black transverse bars. The underfur isdark rufous in colour. The rounded, rather broad head, with a short, sharp-pointed muzzle ending in apink nose, is almost white in colour. The ears, the tip of the tail, and distinctive eye patches are black.The claws on the front feet are long (15 mm), curved and strong, ideally adapted to digging. Those onthe hind feet are much shorter, not more than about 8 mm (Estes 1991, van Staaden 1994, Nowak1999, Skinner and Smithers 1999, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust 2006).

    General Information Highly social animals, a Meerkat colony can consist of up to 30 individuals.Usually, however, groups contain two to three family units, and a total of 10-15 individuals. Each familycontains a pair of adults and their young. A group forages together, and take it in turns to baby-sit, trainyoungsters to hunt for food, and to act as sentinels, sitting on a mount to watch for potential predators.Sentinels will announce that they are on guarding duty with special vocalisations, and Meerkatsforaging for food will regularly stop to scan for predators, or to check if another individual is on guard. Ashrill, sharp bark from the group member on sentinel duty, and the rest of the pack dive into theburrows, then will cautiously stick their heads out to detect any danger before re-emerging. Aggressionis uncommon within a group, but the dominant female, who produces more than 80 % of the litters, willkill the young of subordinate females if they are born too close to the birth of her own (Clutton-Brock etal 1999, Manser 1999, Nowak 1999, Skinner and Smithers 1999, Manser et al 2001, Durrell WildlifeConservation Trust 2006, Kutsukaka and Clutton-Brock 2006).

    Longevity In the wild these animals are estimated to live up to 15 years. In captivity, one specimenwas 20.6 years of age when it died (HAGR Human Ageing Genomic Resources 2006).

    Status

    1. Red List Category Lower Risk Least Concern (LR/lc)

    Rationale: Listed as Lower Risk Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.The species is not facing an immediate threat of extinction in the wild, providing enough of itshabitat remains intact. This species has a relatively large range, however some subspecies areunder more pressure from human encroachment than others (Mustelid Specialist Group 1996,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust 2006).

    2. CITES listed Protection Status Not listed (CITES 2007).

    DATE OF ASSESSMENT: 01/05/2008Bird and Mammal Model used (Bomford 2008) using PC CLIMATE(Brown et al 2006, Bureau of Rural Sciences 2006)

    The Risk Assessment Model

    Models for assessing the risk that exotic vertebrates could establish in Australia have been developedfor mammals, birds (Bomford 2003, 2006, 2008), reptiles and amphibians (Bomford et al 2005,Bomford 2006, 2008). Developed by Dr Mary Bomford of the Bureau of Rural Sciences (BRS), themodel uses criteria that have been demonstrated to have significant correlation between a risk factor

  • Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) risk assessment for Australia. Amanda Page, Win Kirkpatrick and Marion Massam, May 2008, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia. 2

    and the establishment of populations of exotic species and the pest potential of those species that doestablish. For example, a risk factor for establishment is similarity in climate (temperature and rainfall)within the species distribution overseas and Australia. For pest potential, the species overseas peststatus is a risk factor. The model was originally published in Risk Assessment for the Import andKeeping of Exotic Vertebrates in Australia (Bomford 2003) available onlinehttp://www.daff.gov.au/brs/land/feral-animals/management/risk . This model used the Apple Macapplication CLIMATE (Pheloung 1996) for climate matching.

    The risk assessment model was revised and recalibrated Risk Assessment for the Establishment ofExotic Vertebrates in Australia: Recalibrated and Refinement of Models(Bomford 2006) and the climateapplication changed to PC CLIMATE software (Bureau of Rural Sciences 2006), available online athttp://affashop.gov.au/product.asp?prodid=13506. The most recent publication (Bomford 2008)includes updated instructions for using the exotic vertebrate risk assessment models and an additionalmodel for freshwater fish. A bird and mammal model for New Zealand has also been included.

    Which models are being used for the assessments:

    Birds and mammals have been assessed using the Australian Bird and Mammal Model (Bomford2008), pp 16-28, including both versions of stage B, models 1 (4 factors) and 2 (7 factors). All reptilesand amphibians were assessed using three models; the Australian Bird and Mammal Model (Bomford2008), including Model A, using 3 factors from stage B (pp 54-55), and Model B, using 7 factors fromstage B (pp 20), and the Australian Reptile and Amphibian Model (Bomford 2008), p 51-53. Therational for using additional models for reptiles and amphibians is to compare establishment risk ranksof the three models for a precautionary approach. If the models produce different outcomes for theestablishment potential of any reptile or amphibian, the highest ranked outcome should be used(Bomford 2008).

    Climate Matching Using PC CLIMATESixteen climate parameters (variables) of temperature and rainfall are used to estimate the extent ofsimilarity between data from meteorological stations located in the species world distribution and inAustralia. Worldwide, data (source; worlddata_all.txt CLIMATE database) from approximately 8000locations are available for analysis. The number of locations used in an analysis will vary according tothe size of the species distribution. Data from approximately 762 Australian locations is used foranalysis.To represent the climate match visually, the map of Australia has been divided into 2875 grid squares,each measured in 0.5 degrees in both longitude and latitude.CLIMATE calculates a match for each Australian grid by comparing it with all of the meteorologicalstations within the species distribution (excluding any populations in Australia) and allocating a scoreranging from ten for the highest level match to zero for the poorest match. These levels of climatematch are used in the risk assessment for questions B1 (scores are summed to give a cumulativescore), C6, and C8. For a grid square on the Australian map to score highly, it must match closely all 16climatic variables of at least one meteorological station in the species distribution for each level ofclimate match. [The score for each grid is based on the minimum Euclidian distance in the 16-dimensional variable space between it and all stations in the species distribution. Each variable isnormalized by dividing it by its worldwide standard deviation.]

    LITERATURE SEARCH TYPE AND DATE:

    NCBI, CAB Direct, MEDLINE, Science Direct, Web of Knowledge(Zoological Records, Biological Abstracts), SCIRUS, Google Searchand Google Scholar 19/11/2007

  • Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) risk assessment for Australia. Amanda Page, Win Kirkpatrick and Marion Massam, May 2008, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia. 3

    FACTOR SCORE

    STAGE A: RISKS POSED BY CAPTIVE OR RELEASED INDIVIDUALS

    A1. Risk to people from individual escapees (02)Assess the risk that individuals of the species could harm people. (NB, this question onlyrelates to aggressive behaviour shown by escaped or released individual animals.Question C11 addresses the risk of harm from aggressive behaviour if the speciesestablishes a wild population).

    Aggressive behaviour, size, plus the possession of organs capable of inflicting harm, suchas sharp teeth, claws, spines, a sharp bill, or toxin-delivering apparatus may enableindividual animals to harm people. Any known history of the species attacking, injuring orkilling people should also be taken into account. Assume the individual is not protectingnest or young. Choose one:

    1 Animal that can make unprovoked attacks causing moderate injury (requiring medical attention) orsevere discomfort but is highly unlikely (few if any records) to cause serious injury (requiringhospitalisation if unprovoked

    Meerkats have very sharp teeth and will approach people and bite them. The teeth arecapable of crushing small mammal bones (pers comm. Perth Zoo, August 2008).

    A small mammal species, Meerkats have a sociable disposition and are easily tamed. Meerkats areoften kept in homes in rural areas of South Africa to kill mice and rats. Captive individuals are said toenjoy the warmth of snuggling close to their masters (Barnard 1979, van Staaden 1994, Nowak 1999).

    A2. Risk to public safety from individual captive animals (02)Assess the risk that irresponsible use of products obtained from captive individuals of thespecies (such as toxins) pose a public safety risk (excluding the safety of anyone enteringthe animals cage/enclosure or otherwise coming within reach of the captive animals)

    0 Nil or low risk (highly unlikely or not possible).

    STAGE A. PUBLIC SAFETY RISK SCORE

    SUM A1 TO A2 (04)

    1

    STAGE B: PROBABILITY ESCAPED OR RELEASED INDIVIDUALS WILL ESTABLISH FREE-LIVING POPULATION

    Model 1: Four-factor model for birds and mammals (BOMFORD 2008)

    B1. Degree of climate match between species overseas range andAustralia (16)

    5 Climate Match Score = 1986 Very high climate match with Australia

    Climate data from 82 locations (see species worldwide distribution map) were used to calculate theCMS. Overseas distribution southern Africa (see B3 for details).

    [See above information on climate matching.]

    B2. Exotic population established overseas (04) 0 No exotic population ever established

    No reports found (Lever 1985, Long 2003).

    B3. Overseas range size score (02)

    < 1 = 0; 1 70 = 1; >70 = 2

    0 Overseas range less than 1 million km2, estimated at 0.76 million km2. Includes current and past 1000years, natural and introduced range.

    The species is restricted to the Southern African Subregion. (The other Meerkat species, the GreyMeerkat Paracynictis selous, is in a separate genus and has a more northerly distribution). The rangeincludes:

    The extreme south-west of Angola, in the Iona National Park

    Throughout Namibia, except for the northern and north-eastern parts of the country

    Throughout south-western Botswana, but are absent from the eastern parts of the country

    South Africa In the Transvaal the species is confined to the southern parts of the province, notextending eastward as far as the Swaziland border; widespread throughout the Orange Free State;occur only marginally in the north-western parts of Natal; they occur widely in the Cape Province,but is absent from the extreme northwest and southeast and from just north of Cape Town to near

  • Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) risk assessment for Australia. Amanda Page, Win Kirkpatrick and Marion Massam, May 2008, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia. 4

    Port Elizabeth, along the coast and for some distance inland

    (Estes 1991, Wilson and Reeder 1993, van Staaden 1994, Nowak 1999, Skinner and Smithers 1999,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust 2006).

    B4. Taxonomic Class (01) 1 Mammal (ITIS Integrated Taxonomic Information System 2007, Catalogue of Life 2008).

    B. ESTABLISHMENT RISK SCORE

    SUM OF B1-4 (113)

    6

    Model 2: Seven-factor model for birds and mammals (BOMFORD 2008)

    B5. Diet score (01) 1 Generalist with a broad diet of many food types

    The diet is primarily insectivorous, but Meerkats will also take small vertebrates, eggs, and vegetablematter. Food preferences vary seasonally. They will actively forage near the burrow, turning overstones and digging in the sand and in crevices. Insects account for more than 80 % of the diet, andinclude members of Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (butterfiies and moths), Isoptera (termites),Orthoptera (crickets), and Diptera (flies). Arachnids (spiders and scorpions) account for 7 % of the diet,centipedes and millipedes 6 %, reptiles (mainly geckos, but also small snakes, including venomousspecies) and amphibians 4 %, and birds 1 %. In waterless areas they mainly obtain water by chewingTsama melons and digging up roots and tubers. In captivity, they will also eat a wide variety of fruit andvegetables. Captive Meerkats have also been reported to kill small mammals (Estes 1991, vanStaaden 1994, Nel and Kok 1999, Nowak 1999, Skinner and Smithers 1999, Brotherton et al 2001).

    B6. Habitat score - undisturbed or disturbed habitat (01) 1 Can live in human-disturbed habitats

    An open, arid country species, Meerkats are absent from desert and forest, and usually avoidmountainous terrain. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including savannah and open plains,alkaline pans, and the stony banks of dry water courses. While foraging they may wander to nearbyopen bare ground, scrub or woodland. They are also found on land heavily grazed by wild or domesticanimals, and frequently dig their warrens near to a water hole. Meerkats tend to prefer areas with hard,often stony or calcareous ground, which is good for warren construction. Unless they are thought to bea vector of rabies, Meerkats are usually protected by farmers, as they feed on lepidopteran (butterflyand moth) populations which damage agricultural crops and pasture (Estes 1991, van Staaden 1994,Nowak 1999, Skinner and Smithers 1999, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust 2006).

    B7. Non-migratory behaviour (01) 1 Non-migratory or facultative migrant in its native range

    Meerkats are diurnal animals, appearing shortly after sunrise. They will then sit at the entrances of theburrows on their haunches, to warm themselves in the earl...

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