Monday, August 13, 2007

Dynasty of the Animal Kingdom

As I put a plug in for Animal Planet's show Meerkat Manor, I decided I should actually watch it at least once. I did, and it is incredible. The series follows the lives of the Whiskers, a family of meerkats in the Kalahari desert. It sounds like it would be a rather boring documentary, but I assure you that it isn't. It really is fascinating.

Cameras have followed this meerkat mob for almost 10 years. The interplay and family dynamics between the Whiskers is astounding. They are more like the Carringtons than animals. Watching them is truly like watching an Aaron Spelling show.

The Whiskers occupy a 2 square mile area in the Kalahari. Flower, a dominant female, is the leader of the Whisker mob. She decides when and where to forage for food, when the mob will move to a new borrow and generally controls the entire family. In the episode I watched today, Flower gave birth to 3 pups at the same time her daughter Mozart was pregnant. Apparently if the dominant female is preggers, no other female in the family is supposed to be. After Flower delivered her pups, the entire family gathered to help with the pups and to groom Flower. Everyone except Mozart that is. Finally Mozart tried to pay her mother attention, but she was spurned. When the pups could finally leave the burrow to go on a foraging trip, rather than return at the end of the day, Flower led the Whiskers to a new burrow a mile away. However, Mozart was not on this trip. Flower had the entire family abandon Mozart to make sure their would be sufficient resources for her own pups and eliminate the competition from Mozart's. Mozart gave birth alone and when she finally had to leave her burrow to get food, a rival family came in and killed the pups.

Meerkats are amazing. They act as a community. Their day starts with everyone clearing the entrances to the burrow. With that done they then stand up to sunbathe for a little bit. Following this, they then go forage for food. Every member of the family goes on the hunt, unless they are assigned to watch newborn pups. After foraging, they all return together to their burrow. At sunset they all gather at the entrance to the burrow to watch the sun go down. They literally stand up and watch it. Then they all go into the burrow to sleep. They truly embody communal living. There are fights, politics and a strong hierarchy. The Whiskers also have rival meerkat mobs that try and take over their manor. It is like the Jets and the Sharks fighting over turf.

I didn't know anything about meerkats prior to watching this show. Now I see what remarkable animals they are. They display amazing intelligence and organization. Human beings could learn a great deal about how to live and act from watching them. I encourage everyone to watch Meerkat Manor at least once. It is on Animal Planet Fridays at 8:30PM.

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