Meerkats As Pets
Can meerkats be kept as pets? The answer is technically yes. Actually, most species that are available and survive in captivity can be privately owned. Depending on one’s definition of a ‘pet’, however, some animals simply make horrendous pets, and meerkats are an example that fit this bill.
Meerkats are exceptionally popular due to massive popularity of the film The Lion King and the later success of the Animal Planet show Meerkat Manor, a documentary highlighting the daily lives of the social animals.
Meerkats are rather drably colored but probably appeal to humans because of their ability to stand like a person when they are on the lookout for predators. This simple characteristic has given them a perceived charisma among humans and the interest in them as pets has understandably increased.
Meerkats are small animals, and they have the word ‘cat’ in their name which may be deceptive to the true nature of these colonial carnivores.
Meerkats are not cats (obviously). It should be understood that meerkats are not cat-like nor do they possess common 'domesticated traits.
Meerkats are social mongooses. Meerkats belong to the family Herpestidae and the order carnivora, which includes moongooses and kusimanse. They are more closely related to mustelids and vivivverids. Once meerkats are understood to be mongooses their behavior in captivity starts to make more sense. Actually, other mongoose species may make better pets.
Amazing meerkat enclosure
Biting a feather
- Exotic Pet Care: The Spotted Genet
My experiences with the care of my first small-spotted genet, and general information for people interested in acquiring or learning about their maintenance in captivity.
In my opinion, a ‘good’ pet gives back as much as you put into it. The keeping of exotic mammals is controversial with people who perceive non-domesticated animals as independent and ‘too proud’ for human care and confinement.
While it is true that exotic animals are infused with stronger instinctual behavior than most domesticated dogs, domestication has little to do with what makes a ‘good pet’. Cats are very similar to their wild ancestors and do not differ as strongly as many domesticated dogs do from wolves.
A 'good pet' depends on the qualities inherent to an animal and its ease of adapting to whatever captive situation will be offered when raised in that environment since infancy. Meerkats are one exotic animal that doesn't adapt well to traditional pet care standards of average people despite their appealing size.
There are actually three ways to care for any type of pet. Method 1: Free-range ‘no cage’, such as with dogs and cats, method 2: partially caged, such as what is done with most small animals like ferrets and birds where animals get play periods outside of the cage, and method 3: fully caged, which is done with animals that are either too dangerous or unsuitable for humans to interact with outside of the cage. This is what zoos do with most of their animals and the enclosures must be large and stimulating enough to provide for an animal’s wellbeing for their entire lives.
Meerkats can only be kept with either method one or three, and are probably best suited for method 3.
Not much information about meerkats as pets exists online, outside of the comprehensive information offered by meerkat owners based in Hampshire, England. The meerkats are named Jack and Milla, and they have many videos posted on Youtube. Despite owning the animals, these owners do not believe anyone else should be getting them. According to meerkat owners, there are substantially negative traits of owning meerkats that need to be considered.
Some wild meerkat facts
- Meerkats only live in Southern Africa, including the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, the Namib Desert in Namibia and southwestern Angola in South Africa.
- They live in colonies of up to 20-30 members.
- Meerkats can live twice as long in captivity over the wild (12-14 years vs. 3-7).
- They are immune to some venom that is dangerous to humans.
- Having no body fat stores, meerkats must constantly search for food.
- Meerkats have stable hierarchies and groups usually consist of siblings and offspring of an alpha pair. Subordinates may babysit the young of this alpha pair.
- They have unique alarm calls the specify certain predators (like prairie dogs do).
Meerkats are mostly carnivorous/insectivorous, however some plant material can be offered for variety and nutrition. Commonly available insects in the United States include crickets, mealworms, superworms, roaches, silkworms and hornworms. With most insectivorous diets, variety is key and not only one insect should be offered. Some meats can also be offered, including frozen-thawed rodents (mice and rats), chicks, and perhaps raw pieces of chicken and other human grade meats (beef, venison, bison, rabbit, duck). Vegetable matter may include sweet potato, squash, carrots, and most 'dog-safe' safe fruits and veggies that are accepted.
What are some potential ramifications of meerkat ownership regarding their welfare? Most people consider an animal to be a ‘pet’ when it is kept in the same fashion as dogs and cats, i.e, being a ‘companion’ to humans and having most or all of its time free in the home.
Meerkats kept in this fashion, raised by humans since an early age, will see their caretakers as group members and exclude anyone else as a predator (see aggression).
This is important to consider, because this means that the animals will depend on you for their imperative socialization needs. Any disruption to this dynamic will result in emotional distress, which is a common issue with many exotic mammals when it comes to re-homing them. More importantly, a meerkat can be used to human care and may not be able to reintegrate with other meerkats.
Sometimes situations that require re-homing will be out of the owner’s control (bans of exotic animals not only in rented households, but statewide, are common), hence why this dynamic (of which Jack and Mila are kept) can be potentially tragic.
This is the number one surprising aspect of owning the small animals; apparently their stringent loyalty to their ‘pack’ which will consist of human family members will cause them to attempt to attack and maim intruders (family outside the home, friends, new pets, and anyone else they weren’t raised with).
Many exotic mammals tend to strongly bond to their main caretakers as this just makes survival sense. Therefore, showing your pet meerkat off to the public may pose a problem and do not expect to have visitors while the animals are free-roaming.
Meerkats are a highly regulated species and are not available as pets in the United States. Captive-bred populations exist in Japan and parts of the United Kingdom.
Here is a list of 12 commonly desired exotic pets that are rare or non-existent in private captivity in the U.S.
Smells and elimination
- Meerkats, like many feliforms, scent mark by urination and this substance may end up in a myriad of undesirable locations, including you and your clothes. They also have a musky odor similar to a ferret. Litter box training is not guaranteed.
- House-dwelling meerkats may chew up computer wires and other expensive pieces of technology with vigor, as well as carpeting and bathroom sealant.
- Exotic animals require a highly experienced vet that has dealt with wildlife. This may yield a hefty bill in addition to general care costs. The purchase price of the animal (if you can find one) will be at least $1,000. It is likely damaging to keep only one animal.
Captivity vs. the wild
Meerkats lead a hectic existence in the wild, as viewers of Meerkat Manor probably know. While they are capable of living up to 15 years old, most of them will see half this age in their natural environments. Their aforementioned aggression and tight social bonds have important purposes, as these animals are on the menu to falcons, snakes, and other larger mammalian predators in addition to the natural diseases that will wear them out eventually.
Therefore, captivity provides meerkats much benefits and comfort in comparison. However, the conditions must meet their excessive needs that are out of reach for the lifestyles of most people unless they are kept in 'zoo-like' enclosures. If any owner or zoo can provide a spacious enclosure with dig-able dirt and forging enrichment for at least a small group of animals, meerkats should be relatively easy to care for, and there is nothing unethical about this.
'Adopt' and visit a meerkat
- Fellow Earthlings' Wildlife Center, Inc.
Meerkats Home Page -- Meerkat vital statistics, 'adoption' info, books, T-shirts and much more meerkat info!