Meerkats: Heat Seekers

This time of the year is my favorite with the meerkats. Our group is getting along well and all of the kids are growing nicely (see Laura’s previous blog, Meerkats: Scent-Marking). The weather is cold and sometimes wet, which means the meerkats don’t do as much digging. Most of their day is spent basking in the sun and standing on their tippy toes trying to get their bellies warm.

They are always interested in me and what I am doing in the exhibit, be it shoveling dirt, cleaning up, or bringing food. At this time of year they are most interested in my lap. I will sit cross-legged in the cement moat and allow them to climb around on my legs. They recognize my lap as a warm place and soon enough almost all of them will be piled on. Unfortunately, Seronga, our subordinate female, is always left out. She is left to sentry duty while the others snuggle together. Even if she tried to come down, Ngami, our dominant female, would growl and vocalize at her to go away.

The group gets so comfortable on my lap that most of them will fall asleep. The guests enjoy watching the ball of meerkats, and it makes for a good photo. Some of the younger ones also enjoy biting at my fleece jacket and digging on my socks and pants. They are so curious that they are always investigating something.

So if you stop by Elephant Mesa at around noon on a cool day, take a look in the moat. You might see a mob of meerkats asleep in my lap!

I know some of you have been wondering about Kasane and her little friend, Leo. Kasane was our adult female who was always trying to be the dominant one. Since Ngami would not allow it, she would pick on Seronga. We moved her out of the exhibit earlier this year and placed her into a holding area. A couple of weeks ago she was moved next to our other meerkat group near the Kopje exhibit. There is a glass wall separating her and Leo from a group of eight meerkats. As you know, meerkats do not take well to anyone not in their mob. When the new group saw her, they came running toward the glass. Kasane was so scared she tried to climb the walls. I guess she isn’t so tough when eight meerkats are coming after her!

Once she figured out they could not get to her, she became brave again. She now spends a lot of time scratching at the glass to get them. But of course it is all just a show. It is great to see her in a dirt exhibit where she can dig, be in the sun, and hang around some other meerkats.

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