"" Writer's Wanderings: My Favorite Zoo Animals - The Meerkats

Friday, August 02, 2013

My Favorite Zoo Animals - The Meerkats

No trip to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is complete without a visit to the meerkats exhibit. It's inside the new area where the elephant exhibit is. It took a while to get the colony started but they are producing and entertaining as only meerkats can do.

Out in the wild, a couple of meerkats will position themselves to look out for the rest as they forage for food. I always wondered why one would stand in a high place and search the skies. I thought maybe they were interested in some of the planes that flew over but I learned from the National Geographic website that they are actually standing guard and watching out for birds of prey. While they only stand about six inches tall on all fours, raising themselves up on their hind legs makes them about twelve inches tall. Each one weighs about two pounds fully grown.

Their natural habitat is the southern plains of Africa and they are related to the mongoose. They eat a diet of insects, lizards, birds and fruits. Some are tamed as pets and used to cut down the rodent population.

The merkats make several burrow and tunnels to not only protect themselves from predators but also to cool off from the scorching African sun. Dad meerkat helps raise the two to four babies each year, teaching them to forage and keep watch standing tall to look over the grass and search the sky.

At the Meerkat.net site, I learned that the dark band around their eyes helps the sun glare. Wonder if that's where the athletes got the idea to paint the dark strips under their eyes on a sunny day? They can spot a bird high in the sky but because they are nearsighted they might miss food right in front of them so they rely on smell for those times.

They are extremely social animals and love wrestling and
playing with one another, all of course while someone stands sentry duty. The day we visited, they were engaged in wrestling mostly. The group of five or six looked to be younger pups. And sure enough, over on the hill in the middle of the exhibit, the sentry watched another airplane go overhead noting that it hadn't circled like a predator so no alarm was sounded.

If I could pull up a chair and sit by the exhibit I think I could watch them play and interact for hours. What's your favorite zoo animal?

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