Florida Guide > Disney Parks
Meerkats at Animal Kingdom
I simply love meerkats – can’t get enough of them. I am an avid watcher of ‘Meerkat Manor’ on Animal Planet, and stop everything when the ‘Compare the Meerkat/Market’ advert comes on. So I bet you can guess where I head straight for when I visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom – the meerkats at Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, of course! Here you can watch the behaviour of a colony of meerkats, and you can see the burrows where they live.
I love to watch their antics as they sit bolt upright surveying all around them. They are actually part of the mongoose family, and their natural habitat is the Kalahari Desert, Botswana, and South Africa. They live together in highly organised groups, called mobs, gangs or clans, and these groupings often contain between 20 to 30 meerkats. They live, on average, between 12 and 14 years, and their habitat is a large underground network of tunnels, with multiple entrances. The meerkat is diurnal, resting at night and becoming active by day. The males weigh around 730 grammes, whilst the females are lighter at about 720 grammes. Their body is long and sleek and measures between 10 and 14 inches, but its long thin tail adds another 7-10 inches. I am sure we have all seen them standing up, when they use their tails for balance – their intelligent faces wide-eyed, searching the horizon for any signs of predators.
I don’t know what it is about them that is so charming, but maybe it is their little pointy faces, with black patches around their large brown eyes. They look so knowing as they sit up and look around. They have small black crescent shaped ears that can close when they dig so that sand doesn’t get in them, and long, strong, curved claws which help them dig their underground burrows. They eat mainly insects but also may eat snakes or lizards, eggs, small mammals, scorpions and spiders. In fact, a scorpion has enough venom to kill an adult human being, but meerkats will eat them as if they are popcorn. They are not immune to the venom, they simply bite the stingers off and then the scorpion’s fate is sealed – the meerkat eats it. They have to forage for food every day because they are very slim, and carry no excess body fat.
One of my favourite things about meerkats is the way one of the group stands guard whilst the rest forage for food. They often sit looking anxiously around them for up to an hour, and when they spot danger they either bark loudly or whistle. If you visit the meerkats in the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail you will undoubtedly see this behaviour. They look so enchanting, sitting bolt upright, resting back on their tails, their intelligent eyes darting around, looking for danger.
Meerkats can have up to four litters a year, with between one and five pups being born at a time. The little pups leave the burrow after about three weeks, and when they do the whole clan stand around watching. Members of the clan will become babysitters to the new offspring. Gestation is usually about 11 weeks, and baby meerkats are born underground in the burrow. At birth they are helpless when born, depending on their parents. They open their eyes at around 10 to 14 days, and their ears open at about 15 days.
If you are lucky, you might even see some baby meerkats at Animal Kingdom when you next visit.
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