A GROUP of endearing creatures associated portrayed on television as being cute and caring has a darker, more violent side, researchers claim.

Meerkats and their protection habits first captured the imagination of people in natural history programmes and then later through advertisements.

Now experts at Edinburgh University have said there is a sinister element to their communal success.

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The study claims the mammals can prevent their daughters from breeding and will kill their grandchildren.

Research into the desert-dwelling creatures - which live in groups with a dominant breeding pair and many adult helpers - shows that the alpha female can flourish when it maintains the sole right to breed.

Dominant meerkats control breeding within the group through violence, by banishing any other females who reproduce and killing their offspring to ensure plentiful resources for the alpha pair's pups.

Scientists studied the impact of giving contraceptive jabs to adult female helpers in 12 groups of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert to ensure that they could not reproduce for six months.

Dominant females were less aggressive during this time towards helpers and foraged more. The female helpers experienced less violence from the alpha female, and provided more care and food for the pups.