The dawn breaks at the Kalahari horizon; the ochre sunshine peeks through silken cirrus clouds. Nudged by mellow warmth, a gang of meerkats emerges from their warren. The weasel-like creatures scrutinize the lay of the land, the charcoal patches around their eyes, paring the sun’s glare. The semi-arid sandy savannah, a shade of raw-sienna, envelops them, bordered by omuramba—dry riverbeds and low kopjes.
Perched on a wind-blown camel-thorn tree, a fork-tailed songbird, drongo, observes the mob with garnet-red eyes, especially the vigilant guard atop a steep termite mound.
The meerkat sentry props himself on the hind limbs. He leans over the black-tipped tail, scanning the perimeter with a keen binocular vision for skulking predators, a complex repertoire of alarm calls at the ready.
“Schweep-Schweep!” the bird shrieks, cautioning the gang; he spots the raptor before the sentinel, thanks to his vantage point.
The meerkats cower; they flee to the bolt-hole in a nervous tizzy, cramming it all at once.
Later, they resurface once the coast is clear; their delight at having another watchdog, the argus-eyed drongo, at their disposal is almost palpable.
Guided by the scent, the meerkats scoop out soil, overturn rocks, and scour the spiky acacia shrubs to uncover prey. An agile mother excavates a scarab beetle with her long claws; the pups chirp to her rhythmic clucking, anticipating mouthwatering morsels.
But before the family can relish the spoils of their labor, drongo’s fierce forewarning, “Schweep! hawk!” fills the cobalt sky.
The plump nibble slumps down, and once again, the bushy critters sprint to their sanctuary, their brindled fur rising against the wind.
When they pop back, the meerkats are gobsmacked to find the drongo savoring the beetle meant for the pup.
Of course, there was no hawk! The sneaky songbird had lied to dupe them of their grub!
“Red alert! Martial eagle!” The drongo squawks a couple of minutes later. But meerkats don’t react.
The dusky bird circles the gang, flapping its wing in their pointed snouts, waggling up and down to stir panic. Still nothing.
Unruffled, the wiser and wary meerkats continue the morning grind of digging, foraging, and feeding their offspring.
The savannah songbird harks back to its roost; his stare fastened to the gecko an adolescent meerkat has unearthed.
Suddenly, a high-urgency bark of the meerkat sentry ripples through the vista, forcing the barrage of activity to a shuddering halt.
A cue for an approaching aerial predator!
Instantly, the gang forsakes the brunch and hotfoots to the subsurface lairs, whipping whirlpools of dust beneath them. Nobody notices the guard’s befuddled face.
The drongo smirks, seizing the juicy gecko in one blinding swoop; he had lied yet again. Only this time, the false alarm was in their sentry’s voice! They didn’t call him the finest mimic in the Kalahari for nothing.
The devious passerine winks at the crestfallen faces of the meerkats and hightails to the roaring dunes, his warbles ricocheting in the air—
A little lie never hurts anyone…
Shall I tell another?
Fork-tailed drongo, a kleptoparasite, is amongst the cleverest of liars in the Kalahari. An irrepressible mimic, the songbird reproduces other animals’ calls to steal their food. Drongos obtain more than twenty-five percent of their daily food by making false alarms.
And a little white lie never hurt anyone- Little White Lie, a song by Temposhark.
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