Behind-the-scenes with the meerkat mob
Hey all! Meerkat Keeper Caleb here! With the recent addition of females Chica and Spot, the newest residents at our African Savanna, it has been an exciting time for the Meerkat Care Team! After giving the girls a few weeks to explore their new habitats and indoor dens, we began the introduction process between the two females and our four males: Kingsley, Little Foot, Petrie, and Spike!
I am happy to report that introductions went well, and we are thrilled to now have a meerkat mob of six! Since bringing the two groups together, it has been fun to watch each meerkat fit into the complex social dynamics of the newly-formed mob! As the oldest and the uncle of the three younger boys, Kingsley is the mob’s peacekeeper who ensures the others behave. He has also become the mob’s alpha male. Spike has taken on the role as the mob’s sentry, or lookout, and can typically be seen on the highest point of the meerkat habitat watching the Zoo guests come and go. Little Foot is our Assistant (to the) Mob’s Sentry; he is distantly observant and slightly more timid, but he is always there when needed. Petrie is the mob’s muscle. As the largest and bravest in the mob, he is always the first one to check out any new enrichment and will make sure it is safe before the rest of the mob joins. Chica is the alpha female. She is constantly seeking attention from the boys and is not afraid to prove that she’s the boss. Lastly, there is Spot, our little troublemaker. Despite being the smallest and supposedly the most submissive meerkat in our mob, Spot loves to pick fights with whomever she can. If there’s mob drama going on, we’ve concluded that it is probably because of her.
Meerkats are incredibly active and social animals. In the wild, meerkat mobs can consist of multiple family groups and have up to 30 individuals; however, average size is around 10 to 15 meerkats. Each family group is led by an alpha pair that also acts as the breeding pair. Additionally, meerkats demonstrate something called “altruistic behavior,” which means the “good of the mob” is more important than the “good of the individual.” The best example is Spike standing sentry and watching for predators while allowing for the other five to dig, play, and forage!
Zoo Atlanta participates in many different Species Survival Plans through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Species Survival Plans, or SSPs, manage animal populations within human care to ensure they remain genetically diverse and sustainable. The Meerkat SSP has determined that our newly-created mob is considered genetically valuable and is recommended to breed! Meerkats breed year-round, and their gestation period is around 77 days, or 11 weeks. Litters can be anywhere between one to six pups; however, two to four are most common. And because of their altruistic nature, the entire mob participates in the care of the pups by helping protect, feed, teach, and play. When introducing our two new girls to our four boys, we were excited to see if there would be love in the air! And lucky for us, since the first day of introductions and the formation of our new mob, we have already observed Kingsley interested and breeding with both Chica and Spot!
We are excited by the future of our meerkat program here at Zoo Atlanta, so definitely stay tuned! It has been an exciting time here in meerkat-land, but the best may be still to come!
Keeper I, Elephants and Meerkats