Meerkats: A Hospital Trip

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Our three meerkat pups in the exhibit on the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Mesa just had their first vaccines and are doing well. They were not pleased with being held and given shots, and I swear one of them actually was yelling “Ow!” during the procedure. But all three of them passed with flying colors and are enjoying life as a meerkat with their 10 brothers and sisters. (Read Laura’s previous blog, Meerkats: 8th Litter.)

As always there is drama on the Mesa. Seronga, our least-dominant adult female, has always been picked on. This past month it has been worse than normal, and she has needed to have a portion of her tail amputated. When meerkats fight, they will bite the sides of the face, the base of the tail, or the tail tip. Seronga’s tail tip has been looking pretty gnarly as of late and the vet staff decided it was time to intervene. This meant she would have to take a trip to the hospital for the procedure.

Taking a meerkat out of a group and reintroducing it almost always causes problems. Meerkats are so territorial that they will attack this “new” meerkat even though it may have been in the mob for years. Seronga actually had a chance at a good reintroduction since she spends so much time by herself. I was still quite worried, so we took some precautions.

When she went up to the hospital we also brought a bag of dirty hay along. Meerkats are very sensitive to smell, and to return her to the exhibit smelling clean and sanitary like a hospital would not do. The hospital staff rolled her around in the hay to get her smelling nice and stinky, just the way the meerkats like it!

We arrived at back at the exhibit, and she started barking at her family. I had saved the carnivore diet from today’s feeding to have something to distract the masses from attacking her. I released her from the crate and let the rest of the mob into the service area. Immediately I gave everyone a meatball and thankfully they concentrated on fighting over the meat and not Seronga.

She ran out into the exhibit, and no one was really paying attention to her. Marula, the oldest of the offspring and her arch nemesis, targeted in on her and Seronga rolled up into a ball. Once she did this everyone else noticed and came running over. She curled up with her head facing up so she could bark at everyone, almost to say “Hey, leave me alone! I raised all of you ingrates.” Or maybe something like that.

After a few minutes they left her alone, and all was back to normal. I was grateful that she was safely reunited with her mob and only had a short tail to show for it.

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.