As soon as the baby meerkats emerged from their den at Basel Zoo, their lessons at meerkat 'school' began. After all, practice makes perfect!
The tiny meerkat triplets peeked out of their den for the first time on 19 September. Their mother gave birth to them in the underground passageways four weeks earlier. The trio are now confidently darting around between the adults’ legs and watching everything they do very closely.
Venomous animals on the menu
The offspring were born after a pregnancy lasting just eleven weeks. Meerkats are carnivorans belonging to the mongoose family. They live in large social groups and can be found in the open, dry areas of southern Africa. They like to eat insects, snakes and other reptiles. However, they first have to learn how to catch them, a process that is not without its dangers. This is why baby meerkats go to ‘school’. Step by step, they follow the older animals and observe them looking for food and catching prey. Initially, they are given prey that is already dead, but later they learn how to catch venomous animals themselves and how to eat them safely.
Learning by imitating
Identifying dangers, whether in the air or on the ground, is a skill that has to be learned. There are up to 30 different sounds to learn. Baby meerkats learn by imitating the behaviour of the adults: they sit back on their hind legs and practice watching the sky attentively, just like their ‘teachers’. If there is any danger, the ‘watchers’ emit a cry of alarm and all the creatures disappear into the burrow.
Sleeping is the only thing that young meerkats do not have to learn to do, as after an exhausting day at school, they naturally cuddle up together and their mother wraps herself around them.
Basel Zoo is currently home to 14 meerkats of varying ages.