Three Meerkat pups recently made their first public appearances at Chester Zoo. Born on January 28, the terrific trio had been kept out of sight by their mum, and the rest of the Meerkat mob, until they were ready to emerge from their underground burrow.
For the time being, it is unclear whether the pups are male or female. However, the three are scheduled to undergo their first health check-up soon, and then all will be revealed!
The Meerkat, or Suricate (Suricata suricatta), is a small carnivoran belonging to the mongoose family. They are native to all parts of the Namib Desert in Namibia and southwestern Angola, and in South Africa.
Gestation for Meerkats is about eleven weeks. In the wild, Meerkats give birth in underground burrows to help keep the newborns safe from predators. To shield the pups from dust in their subterranean homes, they are born with their eyes and ears closed. Meerkat babies are also nearly hairless at birth, though a light coat of silver and brown fur begins to fill in after just a few days.
The babies nurse for about nine weeks, and they grow very quickly. Though they weigh only about an ounce at birth, by six months old, the pups are about the same size as the adults.
These desert-dwellers are highly social critters and live in groups, called mobs, which can include dozens of individuals from multiple families.
Meerkats have scent pouches below their tails and will rub these pouches on rocks and plants to mark their territory. The dark patches around their eyes act to cut down on sun glare and help them see far into the distance.
Meerkats have four toes on each feet and very long, non-retractable claws to help them dig. They can also close their ears to keep dirt out while digging.
As a species they have an interesting feeding approach as they will always maintain visual and vocal contact whilst foraging, with one of the group standing on its hind legs and acting as sentry on the lookout for predators. They feed mostly on invertebrates and plant matter.
They are currently classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In the wild, they are present in several large and well-managed protected areas. However, population densities can fluctuate due to predation and rainfall variations.