The soft nuzzling combined with gentle clawing moved slowly up the inside of my thigh. Too shocked by circumstances I found myself numb, unable to move. Unable to think. Too stunned to react I sat perfectly still and waited for what was to come next.
The crisis was averted when the Spotter amongst the clan gave a chirp warning the fifty odd Meerkats in the enclosure of impending danger. The young female foraging for tucker under my billowing skirt immediately followed the spotters call and scuttled off towards the tunnels along with the others in her clan.
Living underground in burrows, which they dig with their long sharp claws, keeps mob members safe from Predators, especially in their natural environment of the deserts and grasslands of Africa.
Meerkats have bushy, brown-striped fur, a small, pointed face and large eyes surrounded by dark patches. They average about 50 centimetres long, including their tail and are extremely social animals.
Meerkats only go outside during the daytime. Each morning, as the sun comes up, the mob emerges and begins looking for food. They use their keen sense of smell to locate their favourite foods, which include beetles, caterpillars, spiders and scorpions. They”ll also eat small reptiles, birds, eggs, fruit and plants. Back at the burrow, several babysitters stay behind to watch over newborn pups. This duty rotates to different members of the mob, and a sitter will often go all day without food. The babysitter’s main job is to protect pups from meerkats in rival mobs who, if given the chance, will kill the babies.
The Meerkat Experience at the Hunter Valley Zoo is certainly an Up Close And Personal one as I discovered.
The Zoo Keeper insisted that we sit on the dirt floor of the enclosure at all times during the 20 minute interaction with these inquisitive and social little creatures from the mongoose family. This reduces the fear factor for the Meerkats as we remain close to their eye level, and also reduces our abilities to make any fast movements which would frighten these flighty little creatures.
All our questions were answered by the Zoo Keeper who was able to identify all the meerkats and call them by name as she patiently explained their behavioural patterns.
Escape is certainly on ones mind when a Meerkat climbs onto your head, let me tell you. And why would a Meerkat climb onto your head? Two reasons : searching through ones hair looking for tucker is the obvious one – because who doesn’t have mealy worms in their long golden locks?- and also because it is a high point for that spotter Meerkat to watch for enemies.
This is a highly recommended interaction with the animal kingdom and one which we will always remember fondly.
The Hunter Valley Zoo is a private run zoo located at 138 Lomas Lane, Nulkaba, near Cessnock in the heart of the Hunter Valley, NSW. They also offer Close Encounters with Lemurs, Tamarins and Marmosets as well as exhibits of the usual array of animals and an extensive breeding program for endangered species.
With expansive picnic grounds and free barbeque facilities this is the perfect venue for family outings. There are regular talks from Keepers around the different exhibits which ensure that this is not merely a day gawking at the animals, but one where you can learn so much more about them.
My only tip? Wear trousers.
For more information go here: https://www.huntervalleyzoo.com.au/