Meer-acle at the Zoo: Keepers Surprised by Underground Babies

The newest meerkat moms at an Austrian zoo played a game of hide-and-seek with the staff. Instead of using special nesting boxes the Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna had provided, the female meerkats dug caves to give birth in.

In the past, pregnant meerkats have always used the nesting boxes, zoo director Stephan Hering-Hagenbeck said. “But this year, they dug their own cave in which to gave birth and raise [their offspring] for the first few weeks,” he notes.

That meant the timing of the arrival of the baby meerkats was something of a surprise to the staff. “Usually, we could carefully take a look into the nursery through the lid [of the nesting boxes]. Of course, that doesn’t work with the cave. So far, our keepers have seen three young animals outside the cave.”

Now, the mini meerkats are showing some interest in the world outside the den.

“The lively trio is already going on their first excursions,” said Hering-Hagenbeck. “That makes it much more stressful for the other group members, who all help out as babysitters. They play and dig in the sand until hunger calls and they go to their mothers to suckle. Insects will soon be on the menu of these small predators.”

Young meerkats in Vienna Zoo. (Vienna Zoo/Clipzilla)

Young meerkats in Vienna Zoo. (Vienna Zoo/Clipzilla)

Meerkats are native to the savannahs and semi-deserts of southern Africa. At birth, they weigh only around 1 ounce (30 grams), don’t have fur and are blind. When fully grown, the creatures have grown fur and developed their eyesight. They typically weigh about 2.25 pounds (just over a kilogram) and measure just over a foot (35 centimeters).

Perhaps the moms of the meerkat babies born in the caves wanted to give their offspring a taste of what their life in the wild would be like. In their natural habitat, meerkats tend to live in large groups in a series of burrows.

(Edited by Stephen Gugliociello and Matthew Hall.)



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