Meerkats No Longer Cute, No Longer Funny

by F.

Like many, I was fooled into thinking meerkats were actually nice animals. In part, I was duped by what I thought was an unimpeachable source of truth—Wikipedia. Obviously, the meerkat PR goons crafted the Wikipedia entry, which paints a pretty rosy picture of meerkat life:

one or more meerkats stand sentry (lookout) while others are foraging or playing, to warn them of approaching dangers. When a predator is spotted, the meerkat performing as sentry gives a warning bark, and other members of the gang will run and hide in one of the many bolt holes they have spread across their territory.

Cute, right? WRONG. Nature breaks the True Hollywood Story:

Research shows that although meerkat societies are generally cooperative, when it comes to pregnant females all bets are off. If a meerkat gets pregnant, she will actively try to kill the pups of other females.

Ok, that’s not that bad. I mean, a lot of animals do that. I’ve even… No, strike that. Anyway,

now it seems that the most dominant female in the group has an extra strategy for ensuring her pups’ survival: she chases and persecutes her potential baby-making competitors until they become so stressed that their fertility collapses.

Nice.

Young and his colleagues have now shown just how hard the dominant meerkat female fights to win her reproductive success: she chases and attacks subordinate females when she becomes pregnant, driving them away for up to 3 weeks before her own pups are born. “It’s a period of really chronic persecution,” says Young.

Yeah. I’ll say. This shows just how wrong I was to fall in love with an animal I met over the Internet.

You won’t see my cat doing things like this—chasing around other females, trying to stress them into reproductive submission. I mean, right now she’s just sitting on her cushion like a little angel, having just come in from out on the deck, by the bird-feeder. She’s purring away, holding between her soft little paws a fluffy, quivering, bloody sparrow.

Cite: Young A., et al. Proc. Ntl. Acad. Sci., 103. 12005 – 12010 (2006).

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