The old axiom “birds of a feather stick together” could be adapted to meerkats.
Known as a mob, gang or clan, families of meerkats live and work cooperatively. Anyone who has seen the popular “Meerkat Manor,” the first reality TV show of the animal kingdom, or any video footage for that matter, will notice that this very recognizable, social African species always hangs out in adorable, amusing groupings.
As one would expect from a “mob,” there is an order to things. Typically only the “alpha” (most dominant) pair will breed, then all members of the community become baby sitters participating in the communal rearing of the pups. The dominant couple may kill the offspring of others or evict the offending mother and pups to ensure that its offspring has the best chance of survival.
Family is so important that there is always someone on guard while the clan hunts and forages. The animals trade sentry duties each hour to share the workload. The sentry stands tall on its back legs or climbs a mound, rock or other large outcropping to get a better view of the surroundings. The guard chirps regularly to assure the family that all is well and also has a variety of warning calls to signal danger.
The Pueblo Zoo’s meerkats currently reside in the Islands of Life building with the African crested porcupines. However, eventually both of those species will be summering adjacent to the new African painted dog exhibit, creating a cozy little African ecosystem.
The porcupines will be at the new exhibit when it opens Saturday. The meerkats will follow later because they are considered an “injurious” species. This means that they are a species that could out-compete their native counterparts and if they escaped, could survive, establish populations, disperse and cause significant harm. Because of the potential to create ecological and economic harm, the approval process for a new residence is more rigorous and takes more time.
Here’s a challenge: Next time you are at the zoo, see how many African species you can identify.