After a long wet winter, spring has finally arrived at Cotswold Wildlife Park. It is always the season for new births and this year is no different. The enormously popular Meerkats have produced their first pup for 2014. This latest arrival weighed approximately thirty grams at birth. The first few weeks of life were spent hidden away from visitors in a burrow, but the youngster has now confidently emerged, exploring the outdoor enclosure and playfully interacting with its new family.
Jamie Craig, Curator at Cotswold Wildlife Park, said: ?We have had great success with our?Meerkats over the years. They're such endearing?creatures and are always a great hit with our visitors.?
These highly social and charismatic animals possess a unique approach to rearing their young. Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) have a fascinating social structure whereby any newborns are looked after by the entire family for the first few months, each adult taking on their individual share of the nursery chores. Even other females in the group will lactate to help feed the pups. Once born, baby Meerkats soon become the most important members of the group. Adults become tender guardians to the youngsters.
At around six weeks old, the Meerkat will join the rest of the group. Each baby is an apprentice to an adult from which it learns where and how to find and handle food - a vital task as their diet in the wild can include scorpions and other small ground-dwelling animals. Young Meerkats learn from the adults how to kill their prey without getting hurt.
Visitors can see the tiny, as-yet-unnamed, newborn daily in the enclosure near the Bactrian Camels. The Meerkats also share their home with two Porcupines.
Meerkats can recognize each other?s voices. A study of wild Meerkats in South Africa found that they could identify and differentiate the voice of different individuals within their mobs. Researchers played recordings of the Meerkat calls and observed the animals? reactions. Their discovery is the first evidence of a non-primate mammal showing vocal recognition in the wild*.
Another study carried out by St Andrews University in 2013 concluded that Meerkats were far more intelligent than scientists had originally thought when it comes to tasks and problem solving. They discovered their intelligent coordinated behavior rivals that of Chimps, Baboons, Dolphins and even humans in its complexity and efficiency.
Meerkats have a matriarchal social system. A dominant female is the mother of up to 80% of the pups born in her family.
Meerkats are also known as Suricates and are members of the Mongoose family from Southern Africa.
The name Meerkat comes from the Afrikaans word meaning ?marsh cat?. However, Meerkats are not related to cats, nor do they live in marshlands.
The collective noun for a group of Meerkats is a gang, clan, mob or comparison.
In 2010, the most unlikely animal friendship occurred between a wandering Meerkat named Bob and an orphaned Lioness cub called Zinzi. She was rejected by her mother at birth and was being raised by safari ranch owner Marcell Tournier in his home in South Africa. The passing Meerkat instantly took a shine to the cub, the two became inseparable and their unusual friendship made worldwide news.