Friday, May 7, 2010

Meerkats make their debut

Posted by: Martin Ramirez, Curator

It's been a very busy time for our new meerkats. Their first visitors, in the form of zoo staff, got a sneak peek of them a few days before the meerkats were set to debut to the public. The meerkats took well to the crowd and spent just as much time looking back at all of us as we spent watching them.
The other fun, new feature is a faux wildebeest skull. The first day they got it they completely excavated it and explored every nook and cranny. I just hope our young visitors understand that it is an artificial skull and that the meerkats had nothing to do with its demise!
Over this past weekend, the exhibit was officially opened to zoo guests. As crowds gathered around the window, the one word I could hear over and over again was “CUTE!” I reminded many of the visitors I encountered that the meerkats are not just cute, but meerkute—and all the fascinating things that make them amazing to watch, like their social structure, and their burrowing and digging behaviors. But don’t take my word for it. Come see them for yourself now that the exhibit is open. You can even chat with the meerkat keepers if you stop by one of our weekend chats at 2:30 p.m. this summer.

Photos by Hannah Letinich/Woodland Park Zoo.

8 comments:

  1. Enjoyed seeing the meerkats today for the first time but wonder if there more plans to improve their habitat? It looks pretty sparse at this point -- what about some type of grass, since that looks like what they have in their native environment. One meerkat today appeared to be particularly distressed as it paced back and forth on top of the rocks by the painted grass wall. It kept standing on its legs and feeling the wall as if to say "is it real"?

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  2. Hi anon--

    Good questions! Technically, the meerkats are still in the standard 30-day quarantine required for any newly arriving animals, so right now we need to avoid placing too much organic materials (such as plants) in their exhibit. Once they are cleared by our vets, we can add more to their exhibit, keeping in mind of course that the exhibit will remain naturalistic to their native desert habitat.

    As for the animal you saw on top of the rocks—in the meerkat world, there is always one animal who is “assigned” to be the sentinel. That animal vigilantly patrols their territory and keeps an eye out for predators.

    This is a new exhibit for these animals and they are still exploring. We will continuously make subtle changes to the exhibit to keep it new and exciting for them. For example, we still haven’t given them access to the tunnels built into the rocks. That should happen soon, and when it does, it will be very exciting and enriching for them.

    Enrichment is an integral component of our animal care program. We offer the meerkats a variety of enrichment to stimulate the animals, including live crickets and mealworms. As with all the animals at Woodland Park Zoo, we’ll continue to explore more enrichment opportunities to encourage a repertoire of natural meerkat behavior, including foraging for food, digging and sun bathing.

    Hope this helps!

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  3. Are there any plans to give the meerkats access to the outdoors, or are they going to be strictly indoors?

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  4. The meerkat exhibit is indoors only and provides ample space and a safe environment with climate control, naturalistic outcroppings, sand-covered flooring, log dens, tunnels, and enrichment opportunities. Additionally, private areas are provided to allow the meerkats to retreat from the public. They can see outside to their surroundings, and have even been known to watch the free-flight raptor program that takes place near their exhibit.

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  5. The meerkats are super cute, though they seemed a little board. Is their 'habitat' going to have more added to it? also, when did the exibit open?

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  6. The meerkat exhibit opened on May 1, and the meerkats are some of the most active and social animals at the zoo, though of course even they have moments of rest! Their exhibit is designed to give them ample space and enriching elements like tunnels and log dens to promote natural behaviors, plus we do additional enrichment like live bug feedings. Right now the meerkats are still technically in quarantine, which means we have to limit the organic substances in their habitat. But once they clear quarantine, we can add more to their exhibit as needed.

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  7. Years later, and they are still pacing. How can WPZ let this continue?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your concern, Anon. Enrichment continues to be a big part of the husbandry for these animals, including changing the furniture in the exhibit and varying their diet with novel food opportunities. What this particular animal is displaying is a learned behavior. It is not connected to the amount of space or the quality of care. While others in the mob groom and interact with their mates, this individual enjoys walking the window sill and observing the goings on. Sentinel behavior is instinctual for meerkats.

      The United States Department of Agriculture classifies meerkats as injurious species to our agricultural industry, which means any one exhibiting them must meet very specific housing requirements. Woodland Park Zoo’s long range plan includes an outdoor meerkat exhibit that would meet those requirements, but even then this species will require indoor facilities for the cooler months. In the long term, we will explore exhibit design that allows for both of these environments and continues to provide stimulating enrichment and care into the future.

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