In 1991, Wellington Zoo became the first Zoo in New Zealand to have Meerkats. Ever since then they have been an absolute favourite for thousands of visitors.
The black patches around a Meerkats eyes act as natural sunglasses – helping to reduce the glare from the harsh sun.
They are extremely endearing animals, which means that although they are not endangered, they act as an ambassador species for Southern Africa’s many threatened species.
Meerkats are carnivorous and mostly eat insects. As part of their special diet, the Meerkat mob at Wellington Zoo get cat biscuits, mealworms, small mice and birds, and various vegetables. On hot days they will even sometimes get frozen ice-blocks to enjoy while they are sunbathing!
Meerkats are matriarchal meaning that an alpha female is in charge. Meerkats play a number of roles and take turns performing various duties in the mob. Some will stay close to the burrow to babysit the youngsters while others will teach the juveniles how to hunt.
There is always a Meerkat on sentry duty and they will rotate this position throughout the day in the mob. These Meerkats have a lot of responsibility, as it is their role to scan the skies for large birds of prey, which are the main predators of Meerkats.
A Meerkat on sentry duty at Wellington Zoo.
On top of dealing with eagles and hawks, Meerkats must also contend with ground based predators like snakes. Amazingly, it is believed that some Meerkats have a resistance to snake venom, which enables them to both defend their territory and even hunt snakes for food! When a sentry takes up its position it makes a specialised call to announce the beginning of guard duty. A low, constant peeping, known as the watchman’s song, is made for as long as all is well. In order to ensure that the members of the Meerkat mob make the correct decision of where to hide, Meerkats have evolved different calls for land predators and air
In the wild Meerkats are renowned diggers, able to move a huge amount of dirt in a small time. They use this ability to create dust clouds to distract other Meerkat groups and sometimes predators. At Wellington Zoo, the Meerkat habitat enables them to replicate this behaviour and the Animal Care team frequently provides the Meerkats with boxes of soil filled with mealworms to forage for.
A moment which these two people will surely remember for the rest of their lives.
The Meerkat Close Encounter is one of the most memorable at the Zoo because of the outgoing personalities of the Meerkat mob. They are not shy at all and will happily jump on your lap or shoulders. Some Meerkats will even take the opportunity to secure a unique vantage point and will jump up onto the head of the tallest human around to do sentry duty!
A Meerkat turns a Zoo visitor into a Human watchtower during a Close Encounter.