Evolutionary explanations of cooperative breeding based on kin selection have predicted that the individual contributions made by different helpers to rearing young should be correlated with their degree of kinship to the litter or brood they are raising. In the cooperative mongoose or meerkat, Suricata suricatta, helpers babysit pups at the natal burrow for the first month of pup life and frequent babysitters suffer substantial weight losses over the period of babysitting. Large differences in contributions exist between helpers, which are correlated with their age, sex and weight but not with their kinship to the young they are raising. Provision of food to some group members raises the contributions of individuals to babysitting. We discuss the implications of these results for evolutionary explanations of cooperative behaviour.