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Meet the Critter: The Meerkat Clan

They're cute, they're furry, they keep watch for eagles and hawks even though they're inside, and they eat scorpions.

This week, Denise McClean, head of the  introduces us to arguably its cutest animals, the meerkats.

“I think of all our animals, these guys are among our visitor’s favorites,” McClean said in an e-mail. “I mean, how can you not love animals that look so cute even when they’re sleeping? And have you seen them sleep?  It’s a ball o’ fur ... really."

 The Prospect Park Zoo's meerkats are all brothers and sisters. 

Why does the zoo only have four? Meerkats, who hail from the dry, open plains of Africa, are suspicious of outsiders, according to McClean.

 “They are territorial and have developed a tight social group, which is why we have not added new animals to their little troop,” she wrote.

 “What’s so neat about them is the behavior you can see that’s just like in the wild deserts of Namibia,” she continued. “There is generally one animal ‘on watch,’ that is, you’ll almost always see one of them standing on tippy toes turning this way and that, keeping an eye out for predators. Of course, there aren’t any around but it’s fascinating to see how instinctual this behavior is and clearly how important it is to their survival.”

The zoo’s meerkats, who are part of the mongoose family, eat a diet of, essentially, cat food, along with vegetables and fruit.

They also eat bugs.

“Meerkats are famous for being able to eat scorpions because they’re immune to the venom. Well, we can’t feed them those treats, but crickets work just as well,” McClean wrote.

One of the favorite games the zoo keepers play with the meerkats is “take a bundle of hay into the exhibit and sprinkle it with crickets,” McClean wrote. “It stimulates the meerkat’s foraging behavior and quite frankly, it’s an absolute riot to watch.”

In the winter, an added bonus of visiting the meerkats is that they’re located inside the nice warm Animals in our Lives Building, where you can also see .

While you’re at the zoo, head to the Animal Encounters workshop, held Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. in the discovery theater, to meet the zoo’s most famous animal, .

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