Scientists at the universities of Edinburgh, Cambridge and Zurich, as well as the Zoological Society of London, said their study of almost 2,000 meerkats found nearly half showing some evidence of inbreeding, the BBC reported.
The researchers recorded births and deaths and the movement of meerkats between colonies in the Kuruman River Reserve, while newborn pups were weighed and measured and had their DNA analyzed to determine parentage.
Meerkats live in clans of up to 50 individuals.
While closely related meerkats never breed with each other, inbreeding occurs between more distantly related individuals that are unfamiliar with one another, possible because they live in separate groups, the researchers said.
Meerkat pups born of inbreeding are generally smaller, lighter and less likely to survive in the wild than their counterparts, they said.