Taronga Zoo is celebrating the birth of two Meerkat pups, the first to be born at the Zoo in nine years.
The two pups, named ‘Zanzibar’ and ‘Nairobi’, were born on Friday, January 23 to mother ‘Malawi’ and have just started venturing out of their nest box to explore the Zoo’s African-themed Meerkat Desert.
Carnivore Keeper, Bobby-Jo Vial, said: "Taronga’s females, Kenya and her four daughters Pretoria, Tanzania, Sahara and new mother Malawi arrived from Mogo Zoo in late 2007 to breed with Taronga’s resident males. They helped form a new bloodline for the species in the Australasian region, so the birth of these two pups is an extraordinary achievement for the breeding program here at the Zoo."
"Over the next couple of weeks Zoo visitors can be amongst the first to welcome our new arrivals into the world, however their protective aunties will stash them in various logs to protect them from aerial predators, so make sure you bring a keen set of eyes, as there will be quite a game of hide and seek going on," said Bobby Jo.
The pups are now four weeks of age and doing exceptionally well. As with all Meerkat young, they are developing very quickly. Despite only weighing a few grams when born they now tip the scales over 100 grams and have just started to eat meal worms.
They are also practicing for sentry duty, trying to stand on their hind legs. One Meerkat is always on look out for predators whilst the rest forage, ready to let out one of over 20 specialised calls for the group to take shelter in their complex tunnel system.
Bobby-Jo said: “Meerkats are social animals and everyone has a role in raising the young. All the females are vying for the opportunity to baby-sit. ‘Pretoria’, one of the aunties, seems to think the pups are hers! Her maternal instincts have definitely kicked in, which is a good sign for the future of our breeding program here at Taronga Zoo.”
"‘Malawi’s’ mother, ‘Kenya’, is the alpha female, so we were wary of how the group would react to the pups because in the wild the alpha female will sometimes kill any young which is not her own to maintain her status, but Kenya has accepted these new pups into the family group and, if anything has been over protective of the youngsters.
"We have a hunch that the father may be ‘Bob’ who is the resident Casanova, and alpha male.” Bob was the last Meerkat to be born at Taronga in 2000. “The pups’ sex will be established at eight weeks when they have their first vaccinations and a veterinary examination, although keepers suspect there is a male and a female"
Meerkats are native to southern Africa and can be found in the Kalahari Desert. They have adapted to living in very harsh conditions and climate, with little water, limited food and many predators. They have ears that can close in the event of a sand storm and dark patches around their eyes lessen the desert glare like sunglasses.
The best time to see Zanzibar and Nairobi is during the numerous Meerkat feeding sessions through the day.
Meerkats enjoyed a surge in public interest after the Meerkat hero Timon debuted in ‘The Lion King’. Taronga Zoo is committed to conservation and educating people about the remarkable animals of the African Plains like the Meerkats and expects many visitors will want to become Zoo Parents to the new pups. Contact Zoo Parent on www.taronga.org.au/zooparent or by calling 1300 369 116.
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