In some ways, watching Meerkat Manor, Animal Planet’s wildly popular documentary series about a pack of furry little mongoose critters roaming Africa’s Kalahari Desert, is not too far off from subjecting oneself to an exercise in mild psychological torture. The meerkats, complete with their own names, personalities and storylines, are so cute and adorable and OMG don’t you just want to take them home as pets?! But then the next thing you know they go and do something like heartlessly abandon a member of their pack or eat their companions’ young. Those horrible meerkats!
Nevertheless, we couldn’t help but choke up a little when we read this story in the L.A. Times today about Chico, one of the African meerkats’ cousins, who lives in the Los Angeles Zoo. Thanks to the success of the TV show, real-life everyday meerkats like Chico have become quite the celebrities in zoos across the country. But poor little Chico—he’s all alone!
As on the Animal Planet series, the meerkat is a highly social creature. The furry mammals forage together, serve as guards and baby sitters for each other, and even strategize about war tactics. And meerkats who violate clan rules suffer a most dire fate — banishment.
"Kids ask, ‘Where are his friends? He needs to have friends.’ It’s very sad," said Janelle Fisher of Sierra Madre, leader of the Chico Project, which has focused on the lone meerkat since his burrow mate died in January.
Chico’s advocates have started a Web petition “to persuade zoo officials either to get a few roommates for Chico or transfer him to another zoo, where he can make new friends.”
If only it were that simple! While meerkats can be warm and cuddly, they can also be aggressive and territorial. And it gets worse. Since Chico, who is 9, has “age-related arthritis and teeth problems,” he might not be able to defend himself if the other meerkats pick on him, a zoo official told the Times.
In the meantime, a spokesman for the zoo said that Chico is content: “He’s not depressed. He’s a healthy animal.”
We’re routing for you, Chico! Just don’t eat your new pals.