What's new at Basel Zoo

It has been ten years since Basel Zoo’s meerkats last had offspring. So it was really exciting when a faint squeaking sound could be heard from the burrow this summer. After a long wait, a single, tiny meerkat pup climbed its way out of the burrow in the Etosha house.

In mid-August, the zoo keepers noticed that one of the female meerkats had a large belly and swollen teats. She then disappeared for a while and only reappeared at the beginning of September to feed. She quickly grabbed a couple of locusts and went back to hiding in the burrow.

A favourite pastime: digging in the sand

On 7 September, a single meerkat pup ventured into the outdoor enclosure for the first time. For the first few days, it only came out of the burrow for a short time early in the morning before the zoo opened. It now roams freely around the outdoor enclosure, but is always well guarded by the adults, who sound the alarm the second a bird of prey comes into view.

The little pup’s favourite pastime is enthusiastically digging in the sand, a good way for him to practise foraging for food. Soon enough, he will be trying out the sentinel behaviour typical of meerkats and eating locusts and mealworms. No one can say exactly how old the pup is as meerkats give birth in their underground burrows. When you first see them in the zoo, their eyes are already open and they are able to move nimbly through the enclosure.

Raising young communally

The pup’s mother received two new partners in spring. She got on well with both of them immediately, and the little ball of fur running around is the happy result of this new relationship. Even living in the same group as her previous partner has been harmonious. But it was the introduction of the two new meerkats that gave her spring fever. 

The little meerkat is now being looked after by all three adults, which is typical among meerkats. All of the animals in the group keep a watchful eye on the little one and are gradually teaching him how to hunt. In the wild, adults even present young meerkats with venomous scorpions. As a precaution, these will initially have their venomous sting removed to allow the young meerkats to practise hunting them. They will only take on dangerous prey once they are confident enough. These social animals also divide other duties among the group: whilst some family members sit on their hind legs and keep watch for enemies, the others head off to search for food.

Around 90% of meerkats’ food consists of insects, with smaller amounts of birds, lizards and eggs. At Basel Zoo, as well as locusts and mealworms, the animals are also given mice, snails, eggs and some fruit and vegetables.

The meerkats are one of the most popular animals at Basel Zoo and consistently rank among the top spots in surveys.