It is good to know there are always constants in life. I just finished reading through all of my meerkat blogs, and I am amazed at what has happened in the three short years we have had this group! (See previous blog, Meerkats: Heat Seekers) Ngami, never one to disappoint, had her eighth litter on Tuesday, February 3. And as part of doing things her own way, she brought the pups out on day one. Of course, this is not normal meerkat behavior, but I have grown used to the way this mob raises its pups. We have all adapted to their methods and have been quite successful.
This week was a tough time to be born and out in the elements so quickly. It rained most of the time and was quite chilly for a small pup with barely any hair. I saw three pups the first day and have seen three every day since then. Ngami has been bringing them out, leaving them in the dirt and then heading off to dig a hole. After eight litters, I am not surprised. But somehow this group makes it work (with a little help from their keepers, of course).
With past litters I have been able to “tell” Ngami, our dam, to put the babies back and she has listened. This week being so cold, I needed to assist a bit more. The meerkats have been using their heated, dry nest box as a den for the pups, which is a great improvement over past choices. But I have still encountered some cold, muddy, and wet pups out of the den. On Friday, February 6, for about 30 minutes, I had put the pups back into the nest box quite a few times only to have them removed and left in the mud somewhere. I had to take all three pups into the back and warm them up under the heat lamp. I also cleaned off the mud and dried their fur. I locked the rest of the group out for about five minutes to give the pups a chance to warm up. Once they had been separated from Ngami for this period of time, she was concerned. I was glad to see that when I gave her access to the pups she took each one and placed it back in the nest box.
Over the last few days they have been keeping the pups warm and dry in the nest box, which makes all of us keepers very happy. I am hopeful that the pups will make it through these very important first three weeks and will start coming out on their own. As always, it is never quiet in the meerkat exhibit, and soon there will be 16 barking, chirping, and growling diggers basking in the sun.
Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.