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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Meerkats at the Houston Zoo


Looking over some past posts, I realized I had promised to post some photos of the Houston Zoo. Here finally is the first "installment." Jan and I had the opportunity to visit the Houston Zoo with her brother David and niece Rachel. Rachel is a zookeeper there, and we were excited to get a "behind the scenes" view of the zoo and its' operations. It is truly amazing that they do all the things they do to keep the zoo running smoothly, and make it mostly invisible to the public. We all know that it takes massive amounts of care and work, not to mention food!, to make the place run. But Rachel's tour gave me a real sense of the magnitude of the undertaking.


The meerkats were our first stop on the tour, and they had been a favorite of ours on the last zoo visit, maybe ten years earlier. Since then I had watched Animal Planet, and gained a great appreciation for these little guys. They are cute and fun to watch as they move about scratching for food and socializing with one another. The picture above is of the Matriarch of the clan. Rachel says her name means "dirty" because her fur was so much darker than the others'. I have forgotten her african name, sorry Rach. Many times the other meerkats would come by and visit, then go on about their business. The exhibit itself is very nice, in that it is open (not a "cage" in the old zoo sense) and gives the 'kats a large area to move about or burrow into. They all seemed to be comfortable about being observed, I guess because so many had looked in on their lives!

Rachel pointed out to us the Lookout meerkat. His (or her) job is to scan the area constantly for predators and dangers. Even though there really aren't any dangers in the zoo environment, instinct drives them to maintain the vigil. Every once in a while another meerkat would visit the lookout. A great way to relieve the boredom, I guess! If you zoom in on the photo, you'll see that he was in the middle of reacting to a sound or movement, and his head was turning to it. He constantly looked one way, then the other, to make sure all was well.

The one thing that I never saw them do while we watched, was sit up very tall on their hind legs and look around, like I had seen the meerkats do on Animal Planet. A small disappointment, but I can live with it. Rachel told us a lot about their habits and social order, and we were grateful she could give us that further glimpse into the World of Meerkats.

More of the Houston Zoo in another post. Keep watching! thanks again for visiting.


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