Starting in 1983, we have had several exhibits of meerkats. They always make our guests smile as they watch these small, entertaining creatures standing on their hind legs, absorbing the warmth of the sun on their bellies, furiously digging for treats, or comically wrestling with each other. There are two meerkats exhibits at the San Diego Zoo (in the Children’s Zoo and in Africa Rocks), and one in Safari Base Camp at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It can be challenging to build a habitat that allows the meerkats to dig to their heart’s content without digging their way out! A wire net lines the bottom of each meerkat enclosure, and each exhibit has some large rocks or man-made termite mound for the meerkat guard to perch atop, ever vigilant as he or she scans the skies for that dreaded bird of prey.
We have been highly successful in breeding meerkats—over 250 have been born in our collection so far! Some of our meerkats have served as animal ambassadors, trained to wear a harness and leash to meet the public, both at the Zoo and Safari Park as well as out to schools and television studios! They help us teach people about habitat conservation and the hardships many animals face today.
The Zoo’s current meerkat ambassadors are littermates Hakuna and Matata, born November 2007. Matata is described as a little spitfire, while her brother is more relaxed and personable. In fact, Hakuna was featured at a San Diego Padres baseball game in July 2012, going onto the field with one of his trainers during National Zoo Keeper Week!
Fortunately for meerkats, they seem to be doing all right in the wild at this time. Yet movies and television shows have brought meerkats lots of attention, with many people wondering if they can have a meerkat as a pet. Although they may look cute, meerkats—like all wild animals—do not make good pets, and are illegal to own without the proper permits and licenses. Instead, head to your local zoo to enjoy these small creatures in action. They’ll be scanning the skies and watching for you!