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THE SHY 5: Should captive meerkats be bred? Released? Traded?
Submitted on Friday, June 24 @ 15:09:36 UTC by Grant After countless thousands of questions about captive and wild meerkats / suricates I have decided to include yet another article on this critical topic, to address certain questions that I keep receiving.
I believe captive meerkats / suricates should not be bred in captivity, and should never be released, they should also be desexed and only kept in captivity to educate visitors about why captive meerkats / suricates should not be kept as pets- this entire article is the view of Grant M. Mc Ilrath from The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project.
I have been researching wild meerkats / suricates full time in the wilderness since 1993 and have done many captive meerkat observations. I have some very outspoken and controversial points that I would like to elaborate on in this investigation of the above topics...
I have found since 1993 in my experience, that there is an increasing an unsustainable demand for meerkats / suricates as pets, especially when people think they are cute and cuddly animals, which they are not. Once they reach puberty in captivity, which many people have experienced with meerkats / suricates in captive conditions they became aggressive to stangers and cause damage to property with their constant digging for food..
The biggest problem is when people have these meerkats/ suricates as pets, where are they getting them from? Meerkats / suricates have very specialised diets and no carnassial (cutting teeth), and usually end up getting very overweight in captivity. Many people who have them as pets (illegally in many cases with no permits- which I do not think should be given anyway...) end up thinking that wild meerkats / suricates eat the same diet as captive meerkats / suricates and that they get aggressive.
Wild meerkats / suricates do not see human researchers as meerkats / suricates, simply as objects which they trust- they will never bite because they do not appear to treat researchers as part of another meerkat / suricates group or of any significance to them. I strive to ensure no meerkat / suricate relates to me as if I am one of them..
It allows me to collect totally accurate unbiased data on true natural behaviour of wild meerkats / suricates. In the past certain scientists, which will remain nameless here as I believe they had no ethics, killed dozens of wild meerkats to cut them up and study what they had eaten! By a very slow and demanding process without creating dependencies to animals by ever feeding them- a patient ethical observer will be able to record the same data without harming any animals or ever needing to capture them!
When captive meerkats / suricates grow up around people- all over the world actually (I have read of this happening many times), and when they reach puberty at around 6 months in captivity they imprint on the people they live with and get FED by, as though the humans are meerkats / suricates from their group.
Wild meerkats / suricates get weaned onto solid foods at the age of around 3 months. They stop begging for food and become independent, and captive meerkats / suricates always beg, because they appear to think their human owners are adult meerkats / suricates- this is the source of the problem!
Wild meerkats / suricates naturally and instinctively attack other meerkat / suricate groups- they scent mark their territory and each other with their paired anal scent glands, and immediately and without any warning will attack anybody who enters their captive environment- this is unpredictable, sometimes they attack and sometimes they do not. This aggressive captive meerkat / suricate behaviour, is not what happens to people watching wild meerkats / suricates who do not interact with the animals.
The meerkat / suricate aggression is natural but to the wrong (due to scent marking and imprinting associations) target, that of humans in captivity and not to other meerkats / suricates, since captive meerkats / suricates imprint on people as meerkats / suricates (as explained), and wild meerkats / suricates do not, so never attack observers.
People then usually get a VERY WRONG and unjustified impression of wild meerkats / suricates, thinking they will bite on site, that they eat mice, chicken and ostrich chicks and lucerne, due to their incorrect knowledge based on captive meerkats / suricates (who have little choice as to what they eat in captivity), and then they often end up persecuting- killing on sight wild meerkats / suricates due to their bad reputation given by captive meerkats / suricates, which are very different.
For the record The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project is against keeping meerkats / suricates as pets, there are a few care centres that we are associated with around the world who have captive meerkats / suricates, and they look after them and educate the public about why they should not keep meerkats / suricates as pets! Breeding of captive meerkats / suricates is not acceptable to this project due to the following points:
I have worked with hundreds of wild meerkats / suricates and I have never encountered a rabid meerkat isince 1993. Captive meerkats / suricates however due to their unnatural aggressive tendencies towards people due to the above mentioned points, can get rabies from dogs and cats and pass it on to people. Which is obviously not good.
I would like to really emphasise that I am totally against the breeding of meerkats / suricates in captivity- it serves no good purpose. Secondly there is such a huge influx of tame meerkats / suricates into zoos and rehab centres because the meerkats / suricate become too demanding or aggressive, that many need to be killed by lethal injection, they do not adapt well to other meerkats / suricates being added to their enclousre usually and this has to be done with great care and patience for it to work usually.
This is a very sad ending to such an incredible social animal. They should be enjoyed in the wild where they belong and I feel that any care or "rehab" centre (since captive meerkats / suricates CAN NEVER be released ethically - they require a comprehensive understanding of all the escape tunnels and sleeping areas which they gain from when they are babies through their lives - without it they are easily killed by predators) should have it as a VERY high priority not to breed the meerkats / suricates, but rather to give them a life in captivity which is educational to others who may want them as pets, so that they learn what will happen to the meerkats / suricates.
The meerkats / suricates natural home ranges are over 6 - 12 km long (3 - 6 miles or so) on average, and yet they spend a life in a tiny enclosure often once they are usually discarded as unwanted pets.
Wild meerkats / suricates usually can't form groups of under 5, since their are not enough animals to watch out for danger, feed their young and feed themselves. They go extinct- this has been proven in my studies over many years in the Kalahari and Oudtshoorn. Captive meerkats / suricates should never be released because they will not survive- they have no idea what a predator is, or how to escape, and wild meerkats / suricates will kill them, size and strengh are not the important factors for the meerkats / suricates survival when being chased by a predator - but knowing where to run to for safety is critical - something they can not have when released into a strange unknown area to them from captivity.
Wild meerkat / suricate groups go extinct if group sizes are too small as explained, so a released captive meerkat / suricate has no chance in the wild! If there are wild meerkats / suricates in the area no foreign captive meerkats / suricates should be introduced there, as they could potentially pollute the wild meerkat / suricate gene pool (unlikely though as they will be killed before this could happen by the meerkat / suricate groups, but it is still a remote possibility that they manage to breed), but most importantly released captive meerkats / suricates could introduce viruses and pathogens into natural wild populations.
If there are no wild meerkats / suricates in an area, there is always a good reason for this too, another animal is certainly in that niche and serving an important function in the eco-system. There is NEVER a need to reintroduce meerkats / suricates since wild meerkt / suricate groups are self regulating small game and indicator species, they move between properties, and nobody owns them- so there is zero need to rehabilitate meerkats / suricates, as wild meerkat / suricate populations maintain themselves if left undisturbed and will occupy any suitable area. They will go over, through and under fences, even electrical boundries do not stop them - since they are diggers. Unlike larger game that often needs to be actively managed, small game and The "SHY 5" need never be managed or disturbed, including wild meerkats / suricates! If the areas they choose to inhabit are protected, they do the rest themselves.
However there is very definitely a need to not have to want to rehab meerkats / suricates. If the pet meerkat / suricate industry could be stopped, or that there was no longer a demand to want wild or tame meerkats / suricates that make terrible pets and hurt the wild meerkats / suricates reputation and populations, then the pet supply market which is mainly illegal, would also stop! No demand would equal no supply. When people see captive meerkats /suricates, without an educational message about the plight of wild and captive meerkats / suricates, it often simply leads to these observeers wanting their own pet meerkat / suricate and so instead of helping to provide a home to the abandoned pet, it stimulates the desire for additional pets to be kept and an unsustainable cycle to repeat exponentially! However if educational information is on display or given to the viewers of these captive animals, they often realise that to have these animals as pets would not be fair to the animal - so the demand stops and so does the supply. The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project practices Conservation Through Education for these reasons too, with a greater understanding, awareness and appreciation often self motivated conservation follows I have found.
Wild meerkats / suricates left in the wild where they belong and through the education of the public about how these animals do not make good pets, and can never be ethically released, and if all provincial legislation banned keeping meerkats / suricates as pets throughout South Africa - with good reasons why not to do this, then the struggle to conserve these animals would be won.
What I am saying is that there is no good reason to breed meerkats / suricates in captivity, there are too many abandoned captive meerkats / suricates as it is. People also then think it is okay to have them as pets if they see them in captivity, and they then go support pet traders with no ethics making profits from selling our wildlife heritage for their own selfish profit and short sightedness (they are plundering our treasured eco-systems), or capture wild meerkats / suricates.
If these factors are not stopped through people DECIDING to stop this behaviour, for those who really care about meerkats / suricates, the whole destructive and unsustainable cycle simply repeats. Please leave wild meerkats / suricates in the wild and stop breeding them and keeping them as pets!Those who are keeping them in captivity I feel should be obligated to pass on the message about the responsibility of the work they do and how pet meerkats / suricates end up in captivity due to neglect mainly, and ignorance, and that the animals can not be released ethically.
Care centres will have The Meerkat Magic Project's full support if the care centre took in captive meerkats / suricates like some do, and gave them a permanent home, and educated each visitor to the centre about how meerkats / suricates should not be kept as pets, and how they are then given a home since they can't be released again, then I feel these centres would be doing conservation a big favour. But simply breeding more captive meerkats / suricates and mentioning that this is to conserve them, or rehab them...I do not support that, as it has no good purpose.
I have very strong views on the above topic as I have been dealing with it for so many years from people asking me questions from around the world. Many films on meerkats / suricates that I know of, are not helping the situation either sadly, as they do not emphasize how meerkats / suricates should be seen in the wild! The trade of meerkats / suricates must stop!
I also believe all captive meerkats / suricates should be desexed. The gene pool is too small to breed them even if there was a need to do so in captivity (there is no incest in wild meerkats / suricates- they do not breed with direct family members, but this happens in captivity causing mutant alleles) for one, and these animals should not be kept or sold as pets, and they can't be released.
The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project takes visitors from around the world to see wild meerkats / suricates, in a conservation study area, with real study animals, that are UNFED and free roaming, and unprotected from natural predation, so that there is a solution to the problem- ignorance from films making people want to keep these animals as pets- now people have a place in the wild to observe meerkats / suricates as Meerkat friendly supporters of the conservation of meerkats / suricates in the wild. Many charity presentations to schools around the country explaining the above topics have been given, and many films and articles have been released on the above topics by The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project in an international awareness drive.
The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project is the only wild meerkat / suricate conservation project in the world. We could really use the support of like minded individuals who take in and care for abandoned captive meerkats / suricates to help the cause, but who follow sensible guidelines regarding education of the public about these captive meerkats / suricates.
There are a number of linked articles that I encourage readers to look at for some repeated information, but also a few other important and interesting points:
Hardcover; 240 pages; photographs of the Kalahari meerkats and the Little Karoo meerkats; Publisher New Holland Publishers, 2016
ISBN 1921517654, 9781921517655
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