Outwrite’s top meerkat admirer, Tracy North, enjoyed the experience of feeding the colony at Chester Zoo.
Tracy was bought the experience as a gift for her birthday by husband Mark, in recognition of her devotion to meerkat programmes, including the Alexander Orlov (comparethemeerkat.com) adverts on TV.
She had to don overalls and wellies before being taken behind the scenes at the compound.
She fed them live mealworms – their near vision is so poor that if you feed dead mealworms which don’t wriggle, they miss them and go hungry.
Tracy said:
“The keeper warned me to stand back as she opened the door into the compound, as sometimes they rush in and try to help themselves.  Luckily they didn’t.
“They gathered before me on their hind legs, staring and with noses twitching.  I have never been paid attention so keenly by so many creatures all at once.
“There was a hierarchy, with the alpha male and alpha female helping themselves to most.  They made quiet noises, as if they were chatting.”
She also had to drop mealworms one by one into an empty ostrich egg drilled with four holes, then bowl it across the enclosure.  The challenge of extracting the food is part of the colony’s daily ‘enrichment’ to keep minds active.
A bonus was that Tracy was one of the first people to see two babies which popped their heads out of a burrow during her visit.  Even the keeper hadn’t seen them til that moment.
“Their heads were tiny and the fur looked fluffy.  They stood up straight momentarily, then dropped back into the burrows.”
Meerkats only live in the Kalahari Desert, southern Africa, yet are so adapted to that environment they are prolific and not at all endangered.
Tracy added:  “Chester Zoo is a charity.  It is so good at conservation that it is reckoned to be among the top 15 zoos in the world.  Just as enjoyable as feeding the meerkats was knowing that we (well, Mark) had made a donation to its work.”
For details, visit www.chesterzoo.org

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