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Gracie: Female, born May 11, 1999 at the Louisville Zoological Garden in Kentucky. She arrived at the Zoo on April 21, 2005.
Pete: Male, born February 27, 2007 at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. He arrived at the Zoo on June 19, 2008.
The Small Mammal House
Long before the drama of Animal Planet’s Meerkat Manor made them widely popular, the Philadelphia Zoo has been home to this precocious small mammal and member of the mongoose family.
Meerkats have long bodies with short legs. Their fur is peppered with brown, gray and tan, and there are dark horizontal bands on their backs. They also have distinctive dark patches around their eyes that may function as “sunglasses.” A meerkat’s skinny tail is unique among the mongoose family—all others have bushy tails—and is marked with a dark tip. As they scatter to forage, they hold their tails upright, and the dark tips stand out against the desert, helping the family members locate each other.
Meerkats live for about 10 years in the wild but have lived as long as 17 years in zoos.
Meerkats tend to breed two or three times per year depending on conditions such as the availability of food. After an 11-week pregnancy, the females usually give birth to between two and four pups. The mother will nurse her pups for 8 to 12 weeks. The social habits of meerkats come into play when it comes to rearing their young. Young meerkats act as babysitters for the youngest litter of pups while the mother goes out to forage for food. This allows her to be well fed and improves the chances that she will survive to care for her offspring.
Meerkats are very social animals. They live in large colonies made up of a breeding pair and their offspring which may number up to 30 animals. They are diurnal (active during the day) and spend a large part of their day foraging for food. While the family forages, one or more individuals will act as sentinels. They sit on elevated locations and keep an eye out for danger. The sentinel sounds the alarm with a distinctive bark, which sends the others scrambling for their burrows. Members of the family take turns acting as sentinel so that all get a chance to hunt for food. Although they are small and cute, like most wild animals, meerkats do not make good pets.
They are about 20 inches in length from nose to tail.
They can weigh up to two pounds.
Wild meerkats are mainly insectivorous animals that will eat anything small enough to catch. Insects typically make up 80 percent of their diet, although they will also eat reptiles, birds, eggs and small rodents. In the Zoo, the meerkats are fed dry cat food, insects, ground meat and some vegetables daily. They also receive a rib bone, hard-boiled eggs, whole mice or extra insects on a rotating basis for variety.
In the wild, meerkats can be found in the open, arid plains of the Kalahari desert in southern Africa.
To learn more about the conservation efforts at the Philadelphia Zoo, click here.
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