It’s been a huge week of tussles and power struggles at Taronga’s Meerkat Desert that eventually ousted our alpha female!
Last week the alpha female, ‘Sahara’, was challenged by a lower-ranking adult female, ‘Malawi’ and her two offspring ‘Zanzibar’ and ‘Nairobi’.
Now, Meerkats might look small and cute, but they’re powerful little critters with a complex social structure. Fighting between individuals can be really vicious and in the wild, as seen in the famous TV series, Meerkat Manor, they’ve been known to fight to the death.
Our Meerkat keepers had been keeping a close eye on the group and after fighting broke out between the females, the keepers lured them into their dens and strategically started to separate Sahara from the aggressors. This might sound like an easy task, but despite their size, Meerkats are really, really strong, so there’s no way we could just pick the individuals up and put them in different areas. If we ever have to pick the Meerkats up, the keepers actually have to wear reinforced welders gloves to protect themselves.
For over 45 minutes the keepers, Louise and Norah worked as a team opening and closing slides, and lured Sahara into one side of the night den with another female ‘Tanzania’ whilst Malawi and her offspring stayed on the opposite side.
By then, it was late afternoon and we couldn’t take the chance that a fight would break out overnight so we decided to keep the individuals separate to give the group the chance to calm down. In the morning we started the difficult process of reintroducing the girls to each other.
But power dominance runs deep in the Meerkat world and Malawi wasn’t keen on backing down, so for the time being Sahara is keeping her distance, keepers are closely monitoring their power struggles... and the boys? Well, they’re keeping well out of it, glad to just watch the drama unfold!