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FILMING MEERKAT MANOR - Series Four blasted by wild weather!

One of the great things about working on Meerkat Manor is that the weather is generally very good. The first few hours after dawn and the lead up to sunset – the times when meerkats are most active – are usually blessed with clear pristine sunlight. In the middle of the day it can get very hot, clouds might bubble up, and dust-laden gusts of wind rattle through the trees and bushes. This is when the meerkats ‘crash out’ or take a long siesta under a shady bush or – if it is very hot – down a burrow. But the weather can always spring surprises as we found out whilst filming series 4 of Meerkat Manor.

Filming began in August which is the end of winter in South Africa. Very cold nights but bright sunny days and no rain are the norm at this time of year. But then in September and October things start to warm up, and with it the risk of thunderstorms. Rain, of course, is the lifeblood of a desert and the spring rains drive the growth of plants and insect life which enable meerkats and all the other animals recover from the hardships of winter. But towards the end of October the only rainfall had been a few showers at night – hardly enough to wet the ground – and the meerkats were having a hard time... they were skinny and – tellingly - no pups had been born. The drought was biting hard, it was getting hotter, and the land was turning to dust. But all that was to change on the 26th of October.

Helen Johnson shows off the size of the hailstones.

Within minutes the desert was a carpet of ice.

That day dawned cool, cloudy, and very humid. The meerkats had been restless and skittish – reluctant to venture far from their burrow – especially when the wind picked up. From the west a dark, almost black, wall of cloud was advancing. We drove back to our filming base and had just got the camera kit inside when we were startled by a sound as if someone was throwing pebbles onto our corrugated tin roof. A quick check outside revealed hailstones as big as marbles bouncing on the parched ground. Just a few at first but it soon became absolutely torrential and you could hardly hear yourself think for the intense drumming on the roof. It only lasted a couple of minutes leaving a carpet of ice melting into the desert.

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