Meerkats – good news, sad news…

Filed under:meerkats et al.,webstuff — posted by d2d on Sunday, February 25, 2007 @ 22:28

KMP_intro.gifSad news: Flower is dead. Bitten by a snake, and she couldn’t get over it. It’s sad to see her leave – though no one in my real live really cares (because no one watches pay TV?). The online community thinks differently… The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen – to use Cyndi’s words (or whoever it was…)
Good news: My latest venture is live: the website I created with/for the Kalahari Meerkat Project. It took some time in the making, it was enormously interesting because of all I learnt about meerkats, and it brought me to using Typo3 CMS – but don’t expect details about Flower, or any other Whiskers, for that matter. That’s censored information, until Meerkat Manor: Queen of the Kalahari, and Meerkat Manor 3 are screening, next autumn… Sorry ’bout that.

PS: Yes, will move to Typo3. Eventually. If I ever find the time. Click here for a preview.

Meerkats rule!

Filed under:meerkats et al.,webstuff — posted by d2d on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 @ 22:37

The East Coast Meerkat Society does not only visit meerkats in zoos. They also support meerkats where they can!

Check out their page – with a growing list of links to meerkat resources, as well as info on the Staten Island Zoo Meerkat Enclosure project. Great even if you live far from the East Coast…

The meerkat maniacs moved burrow…

Filed under:meerkats et al.,webstuff — posted by d2d on Friday, October 20, 2006 @ 18:12

The forum for Meerkat Manor closed down – but the meerkat addicts moved burrow, and I with them. So if you want to share your thoughts about Meerkat Manor, the Whiskers, and meerkats in general, register at Mel’s Mob – it’s a great mob, notably consisting of mostly grown-ups, many of them with a long-standing passion for meerkats (not only since Meerkat Manor), or others with a background in animal shelters, conservation or biology.

Sentimentality trip

Filed under:friends&family,meerkats et al.,southern africa,wildlife — posted by d2d on Sunday, October 8, 2006 @ 21:32

Meerkats Erdmaennchen Kinderzoo RapperswilYellow Mongoose Fuchsmanguste Zoo Rapperswil Aliza and myself just undertook a sentimentality trip today, to overcome our longing for small mammals of the furry kind.

I mean, Aliza has spent the past 3 or 4 years in the Kalahari observing Yellow Mongooses (or Mongeese? well, “Fuchsmangusten” in German), following their every step and listening to whatever sounds they uttered.

So Aliza’s probably THE expert on yellow mongooses. Worldwide. But now she’s fighting a lone battle with statistics to finish her PhD, in cold Zurich, far away from the sounds and smells of the Kalahari. And far away from furry sweeties like Choc Chip or Mickey… Doesn’t this sound dramatic? It does to me – I’ve only spent 2 weeks in the Kalahari Meerkat Project, but still miss the scurries.
It goes without saying that the birth of three meerkat pups in a combined meerkat/mongoose exhibition in the Rapperswil KinderZoo was reason enough to board the old steam boat on Lake of Zurich for a ride to Rapperswil, to visit the kats n’yellows. Here are our observations (mostly Aliza’s):

  • The three yellows where more active than the kats, but still sedated compared to their cousins in the wild. Obvious to the expert eye was that the yellows were much more nervous than their wild counterparts. Poor thingies…
  • A hot-air balloon is a strange kind of bird. Being a yellow, you can strain your ears and watch it for 10 minutes – but still no signs of attack. Hot-air ballons don’t seem to live on small mammals (contrary to rat creatures).
  • And the meerkats? The kats were L.A.Z.Y., worse than during the Kalahari midday heat. Mama plus 3 pups formed a ball with an indiscriminate number of legs and tails sticking out. Papa watched us, his boredom indicating that we’re about as scary as a january bush. But they were SWEET!!!

Meerkat Maniacs

Filed under:meerkats et al.,southern africa,wildlife — posted by d2d on Friday, October 6, 2006 @ 23:53

And the world goes crazy about meerkats!!!

Just spent some time reading through the Billnighy Meerkat Manor forum – it virtually exploded in the past 2 weeks. Hopes are repeatedly searing up and crashing down regarding the fates of Shakespeare and Tosca – as finally PROFESSOR Tom Flower, the project leader of the meerkat project, secunded by Professor Alex Thornton, has given a statement that Shakespeare just disappeared (just before, or really after the fight with Big Cy? – that one is still under discussion).

Okay, here a few links:

Bill Nighy page (read Post 384 by Deidre, for the Statement of Professor Tom Flower, and Post 394 with Alex’s letter)

A recent show on Today, about the fate of Shakespeare (it really made me feel homesick to see the little scurries again on screen…)

Sciencetoday article about an upcoming PNAS publication by Andrew Young (another upcoming Professor?) with latest research on eviction of meerkat females by the dominant female

Another Meerkat Manor forum, which had the decency to link to my meerkat page 😉
Anyway, it’s great news to read that Tom got promoted to Professor, in the past year – at least in this forum!

Good news is also that our zoo in Rapperswil recently announced the birth of meerkat babies – even though it is a single couple instead of a family… Most probably they just felt so happy because of their new neighbours, the yellow mongooses!

It’s a cruel crazy beautiful world – or: where have Shakespeare and Tosca gone?

Filed under:meerkats et al.,southern africa,webstuff,wildlife — posted by d2d on Saturday, September 9, 2006 @ 21:45

Lazuli meerkats Meerkat Manor Whisker's EnemiesThe question had been on since months: Did Shakespeare survive the battle in which he saved the pups from being killed by archrivals Lazuli??? And where did Tosca go?

No clue what I’m talking about? Well, you haven’t met the dearest movie stars ever: the meerkats of Meerkat Manor. They are the only movie stars I ever met in person (on my 2005 SA trip), but I haven’t seen the movie yet :-(.

But I found this fan page about them, telling me that there will be a 2nd series, and that a DVD of the first series will come out.

AND NOW AMAZON POSTPONES THE DVD, after the actual release date!!!

It’s a cruel crazy beautiful world. Like Flower’s, Shakespeare’s, Youssarian’s or Tosca’s world. And I’ll have to wait for another month to see the meerkats again :-( But I wonder what meerkat tales Cyndi will tell – she’s in an Earthwatch meerkat team in June 2007.

I do envy her.

Are meerkats’ barks worse than their bites?

Filed under:meerkats et al.,southern africa,wildlife — posted by d2d on Thursday, September 7, 2006 @ 20:41

Meerkat playfighting“As I watched Goblin shift his hold on Sprite’s throat, and the pair twisted over in a spray of sand, I knew Goblin was most likely to win… if the practice theory was correct. Goblin had devoted more time to play than Sprite, and so had had more opportunity to practise his fighting manoeuvres. He was also more skilled at these combat moves, winning play fights more often than Sprite. And when the pair had played together, it was Goblin who’d won two-thirds of their wrestling matches. As the battling meerkats disappeared below ground, the group gathered excitedly in the burrow’s entrance, jostling to peer down the hole, their arms thrown around each others’ shoulders as they craned to see. Their tension was palpable, and so was mine. Would Goblin win?

Growls and squeals drifted up from below. We waited patiently. Only Morgause seemed unaffected by the excitement, calmly grooming her fur. Suddenly a meerkat shot out of the burrow. It streaked away, crossing the wide, shrubby flats at a hard gallop. But who was it? Tension in the group intensified; all eyes were fixed on the burrow – even Morgause’s. Then, swaggering thriumphantly despite a noticeable limp, XXX strutted out. He approached Morgause warily, sinking down beside her as she leant across and nonchalantly began to groom the blood from his fur.”

This account of the final battle about Morgause’s (the widowed dominant female of the Young Ones mob) paw, between littermates Goblin and Sprite (of Elveera mob) is probably as exciting as research gets – and Lynda Sharpe may still think about a second career in writing thrillers should research get more boring after this. During her 4-year PhD studies in the Kalahari Meerkat Project, Lynda documented 27000 playfights and a mere 18 dominance fights trying to answer a seemingly simple question: Do playfights train meerkats for the real fights, or are they just fun? Why should youngsters waste engergy on play when they could use it to grow?

The question whether playfighting is just honing skills for the final dominance fights is also the subject of an article by Lynda in Africa Geographic (Sept 2006, p. 35-39) – and a good read for anyone who can’t get enough of exciting meerkat stories :-)
The answer to Lynda’s practise theory was a simple “no”. Hard players are not automatically dominance winners. So the question about the innermost meaning of play remains.
But anyway – did you ever think about why humans play?

Teaching in Wild Meerkats

Filed under:meerkats et al.,wildlife — posted by d2d on Monday, August 7, 2006 @ 21:29

Those were the words opening research heaven for Alex Thornton and Katherine McAuliffe – the title of their recent publication in Science magazine (Vol 313, p. 227 ff, 14 July 2006), and this is as close to heaven as it gets, for scientists… This even brought a meerkat on the magazine’s cover, instead of those all-too-boring crystal structures.

The article shows with the example of meerkats something unexpected, because we humans think of it as natural: That grown-ups teach kids, and in a way appropriate to the kid’s skills. Or in meerkat lingo: that helpers teach pups how to cope with nasty-tasty food like deadly-yummy scorpions, and that helpers adapt their methods to the age and supposed level of experience of the pups.

So what? comes your reply. It is common knowledge that lionesses teach their young to hunt, that chimps show their kids how to use sticks to get to food – or so we think. But no, the question whether teaching exists in animals other than humans was so far only answered for ants, and now for meerkats. But thinking of it, it is probably also not yet unequivocally proven that human teachers do adapt their teachings to the skills/age of their pupils…

Anyway, I must say this article about animal behaviour – even if it would completely comply to those science mag rules on how to write as dryly and boringly as possible – definitely gave more food for thoughts than my PhD publication in J. Bact. about the Dependence of Regulation of Nitrogen fixation in Bradyrhizobium japonicum by regSR expression.

Meerkat Manor episode II – South Africa, Kuruman River Resort

Filed under:meerkats et al.,southern africa,travel,wildlife — posted by d2d on Thursday, January 26, 2006 @ 22:12

Whiskers meerkats I just learnt that there will be a second episode of Meerkat Manor, an Animal Planet soap starring the Whiskers meerkats of Kuruman River Reserve! I missed the first episode in September 2005 since I was still in Namibia – so keep fingers crossed that they bring it out on DVD… Episode 2 will probably be released in Sept 2006. I wonder how the film crew succeeds in bringing the main characters of episode 1 back into to episode 2 – because the meerkat gangs are not that stable…
Constant updates are to be found on narrator Bill Nighy’s fanpage.