Case Study 2: Teaching and Learning by Observation in Meerkats

meerkatsTeaching, where knowledgeable individuals go out of their way to help others learn, is a cornerstone of human culture. Until recently it was thought that humans were the only teachers in the animal kingdom, but our research has found that meerkats teach their pups how to hunt by providing the pups with opportunities to practice their skills [1].

We have also shown that meerkats can pick up new ways of obtaining food by observing other group members: in field experiments where we trained ‘demonstrator’ meerkats to obtain food using different methods, the demonstrators’ techniques spread locally within their groups [2].

[1] Thornton, A. & McAuliffe, K. (2006). Teaching in wild meerkats. Science, 313, 227-229.
[2] Thornton, A. & Malapert, A. (2009). Experimental evidence for social transmission of food acquisition techniques in wild meerkats. Animal Behaviour, 78, 255-264.