I never thought I’d be quizzing people over the radio about the sandiness of nipples.

Then again, I never foresaw that I’d spend months and months chasing meerkats around the desert. (Or, for that matter, that I’d come to be known as “No Mercy MacLeod” on the football pitch after scoring a header into a metre by half metre goal and taking out two defenders, one of whom was so badly injured that she had to miss the next day in the field… but that’s another story). I suppose life in the Kalahari is inherently full of surprises.

As this last week has certainly been. Driving to Uberkatz a few days ago, someone mentioned to me that they’d seen the group earlier, minus the dominant female. My mooted suggestion that she could be giving birth was greeted with horror, fresh from the memory of Diana’s dramatic abortion of her pups last week. When I got to the burrow and found them all to be below ground mid-afternoon, my suspicion was proved almost certainly correct – and Tina’s weight loss the next day confirmed. Litter number one! The next evening I was with Pandora, and once again, the dominant female was below – and what a treat to see Toblerone emerge, sleek and placid, with the suckle marks on her belly of some strong and healthy pups. Even better news for me, the oldest subordinate female at Pandora has also started lactating, so she is the first allolactator of my study, and I’m looking forward to investigating whether her foraging strategies or cooperative investments change, using the data I’m collecting now.

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To complete a week of surprises, a couple of nights ago it began to rain – a heavy, thunderous rain that battered my tin roof from midnight to morning. Clichés of renewal and rebirth don’t seem so clichéd here in the Kalahari. As well as washing clean what little foliage we have, it’s prompted the trees to seize their moments and put forth new leaves, and tiny delicate flowers have bloomed amidst the dead grass and on the bare sand – the prettiest surprise of all.

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