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late 15c., "monkey," from Dutch meerkat "monkey" (related to Old High German mericazza), apparently from meer "lake" + kat "cat." But cf. Hindi markat, Sanskrit markata "ape," which might serve as a source of a Teutonic folk-etymology, even though the word was in Germanic before any known direct contact with India. First applied to the small South African mammals in 1801.
burrowing member of the mongoose family (Herpestidae), found in southwestern Africa, that is unmistakably recognizable in its upright "sentinel" posture as it watches for predators. The meerkat is slender and has a pointed little face, tiny ears, and black eye patches. Body length is about 29 cm (11 inches), and the smooth, pointed tail is 19 cm long. Colour varies from dark to grizzled light gray or tan, with broad dark bars across the back and a black-tipped tail. Adults weigh less than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), with older dominant breeders heavier than subordinates. Easily tamed, the meerkat is sometimes kept as a pet to kill rodents.