For the third time this year, Taronga Zoo’s meerkat population has received a boost—and this time it’s surprisingly large, with six new pups joining the family.
Born on 7 November, the baby meerkats are the third litter in a row for the parents Nairobi and Maputo, who welcomed their first two pups only this January. The second pair of babies arrived in August, so it’s clear the meerkat couple have been getting busy expanding their little mob.
Meerkats typically mate throughout the year, and the comfortable life in the zoo has been keeping the meerkats happy to continue reproducing. With a gestation period of just eleven weeks, they’re able to grow their family quite successfully when the conditions are right.
However, having six babies is certainly unusual for meerkats, who typically only give birth to three or four pups in the wild.
“We knew that Nairobi was bigger than she was during her previous pregnancies, but we definitely weren’t expecting six pups,” says Courtney Mahony, keeper of the meerkats at Taronga.
However, the mum is doing well and the pups are also looked after by the dad and the eldest daughter, Serati. This is typical behaviour for meerkats as animals who live in bustling colonies, with several members of the group frequently looking after the young.
Zoo staff have not confirmed the sex of the baby meerkats yet, but they suspect there are three males and three females—to be confirmed at their first vet exam in January.
Meanwhile the pups, now just over a month old, have started eating solid foods (watch the video above to see one of them devour a mealworm), and are being slowly introduced to the outside world for brief periods of time, although they still largely reside in the nest area behind the scenes.
“Every day they spend more time out of their nest box, hanging out with mum and their brothers and sisters,” explains Mahoy.
“They’re starting to play and learn behaviours like standing up on their hind legs, jumping and running. They develop so quickly, so it’ll probably only be another week before they’re wrestling and chasing each other around the exhibit.”
PHOTOS AND VIDEO: Paul Fahy / Courtesy of Taronga Zoo