I am standing behind a solid wooden door, getting ready to brave what is on the other side. I can hear a soft rustling and some strange high pitched squeaking. The zoo keeper at Wellington Zoo slowly opens the door and with a little trepidation I step in.
Aaargh! We are suddenly mobbed by meerkats running between our feet. Its like trying to walk on ground that’s alive, they’re everywhere! And I can’t believe how small they are, standing only about 30cm or 12 inches high.
A MOB OF MEERKATS
They excitably race around, following our feet as we try to move into their enclosure for us to sit on the well placed ‘visitors’ log. They’ve done this before.
A few ‘attack’ the Keeper’s shoelaces as we sit down.
They start pulling it with the fury of a tug of war as if it were a prize that just had to be had, God knows what for.
As I sit down, I am suddenly swamped by a layer of over enthusiastic meerkats piling themselves onto my lap.
Trying to take photos becomes impossible. They are way too close for my camera to focus. Plus I am laughing hysterically which doesn’t help either!
I try stroking one although it’s oblivious, totally focussed on what is about to come. They know the routine well.
MEERKAT FACT FILES
Meerkats live in large families or ‘mobs’, with an alpha pair of which the female is dominant. It’s music to my ears, head of the mob, go girl!
They have dark rings around their eyes to reduce the glare of the sun, essential when constantly on the lookout for predatory hawks and eagles.
They are desert animals, their home being the Kalahari, and they are well adapted to the harsh conditions.
Apparently they can catch and kill a deadly scorpion by de-arming its stinger in the blink of an eye.
They are also immune to the venom of some deadly snakes, not to unlike mongoose to which they are partly related.
Wellington Zoo is reknown for its face to face animal Close Encounters. You can get up close and personal with a giraffe, feed a lion, stroke a cheetah or, yes, play with the meerkats.
Prices in comparison to many other zoos around the world are very competitive, plus it includes zoo admission as well, and 10% of the proceeds go toward projects supported by the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund.
Book in advance as the Encounters are very popular, and for good reason.
MEERKATS AT WORK
I have loved meerkats ever since watching Meerkat Manor on television. Before going into their enclosure for my ‘one on one’, I stood watching their behaviour from a distance.
Forever alert, at least one was always on sentry duty checking out what was going on. The sentry was ever vigilant.
Standing on his back legs, head high, he was constantly alerting the troop. The others would run for cover when he barked his warning call.
It didn’t matter it was only a plane flying overhead and not a predator. At only 30cm tall, guess you can never be too sure if you are a meerkat.
CORN LOVING MEERKATS
Back to our excited hyperactive troop.
Their treat for our visit is a feed of delicious sweet corn kernels. Can’t make it too easy for them so we poured them into cardboard box partially filled with straw.
Well these guys knew the game all too well. The minute the box is placed on the floor, they start to jump in.
They came from every direction. Soon they are two and three deep, with others still launching themselves on top of the pile!
All I can see is meerkat bottoms, their heads diving down into the straw in the hunt. It’s a meerkat frenzy. Obviously corn is like gold to a meerkat!
The food is gone in minutes. The meerkat rugby scrum is over in a flash.
A few shy retiring ones still jump in the box well after the boisterous ones have eaten the lot and run off.
The odd one still hopefully searches in case there is maybe one kernel left in there, somewhere, please?
Our half an hour has flown by in a flash. I have never laughed so much, nor been covered in meerkat before.
I just want to take the lot of them home in my suitcase, as you do. They really are endearing creatures. And these guys did not disappoint.
I was so envious of the Keeper’s ‘day at the office’. What a job, beats mine for sure!
Photos and video by Irene Isaacson, who was mobbed by meerkats at her own expense.
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