What is a meerkat?
The meerkat (or Suricata suricatta), is a small, wild animal native to southern Africa who belongs to the mongoose family. These petite omnivores will usually only venture outside during the daylight hours and will travel in large mobs. They have a keen sense of smell, vision, and hearing for sensing predators, and can often be seen standing on their hind legs, alert to any danger.
What does a meerkat look like?
A meerkat's fur is typically beige in colour and peppered with grey, brown and yellow. These speedy creatures can usually be spotted by their unique brown stripes on their back.
Despite the cute and cuddly image presented in the media, Meerkats are actually equipped with incredibly sharp nails so that they can climb trees with ease and quickly dig and burrow underground (as they like to do) in search for lunch.
What do meerkats eat?
As natural omnivores, a meerkat's natural diet consists mainly of insects, although they'll also happily eat small rodents, fruit, birds, eggs, lizards and scorpions. Meerkats will naturally spend much of their time digging in the sand in pursuit of prey.
Sadly, meerkats kept as pets are often fed the wrong diet and so become overweight and suffer as a result.
Where can you find a meerkat?
Meerkats originate from desert areas of southern Africa and are often found in the depths of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and the Namib Desert in Namibia, as well as south-western Angola.
We believe that meerkats don't make good pets as it's so difficult to meet their complex needs in a captive environment and they are likely to develop behavioural problems.
Sadly, despite this, we still often receive reports of meerkats on sale in local pet shops in unsuitable conditions.
Is it ok for meerkats to be kept on their own, or in small groups?
Meerkats are extremely social in the wild, living in tight-knit groups of up to 40 individuals. They need the company of other Meerkats in order to live a happy, healthy life.
Sadly, we often see individual meerkats being kept or offered for sale apart from their gang.
Lone meerkats are also very difficult to integrate back into social groups, and so once separated, a meerkat may have to remain alone for it's entire life.
In fact, higher stress indicators are associated with smaller enclosures and smaller group sizes so it's really important that meerkats are kept in groups so that they can thrive.
If meerkats don't have the right environment in which to express their natural behaviour, or if they're kept alone or in the wrong social grouping, they're prone to developing behaviour problems such as pacing, head bobbing, over-grooming and self-mutilation.
Do meerkats make good pets?
Due to the stress of being removed from a group, it would be unsuitable to keep a meerkat in captivity. Meerkats also do not make suitable domesticated animal due to their wild nature and demanding needs.
Typically, the UK household is rarely ever a suitable habitat for one of these explorative creatures. In fact, every day in the wild, meerkats roam territories that can extend for several kilometres and encompass dozens of overnight burrows and hundreds of emergency bolt-holes. Access to this type of environment is essential for their ultimate wellbeing. Of course, this simply cannot be achieved in enclosures such as rodent cages or in any kind of typical household.
Additionally, meerkats can be aggressive and deliver a really nasty bite. Plus, they can especially be aggressive to people they don't know. Of course, these aren't ideal traits for a household pet.
As meerkats naturally spend hours every day in the wild digging for food or making new burrows this can become problematic in the home. As they're deprived of this opportunity it can often lead to carpets, other flooring and skirting boards being destroyed.
Furthermore, as scent-marking is an important mode of communication for meerkats, in the home this can mean brown smelly marks on your furniture!
Are meerkats legal to own in the UK?
While it's currently legal to own a meerkat as a pet, it's also a legal requirement under the Animal Welfare Act that owners meet all of the needs of the animal in a way that allows for natural behaviours. We believe this would be impossible to do in a home environment.
How are we helping meerkats?
We're always responding to calls we've received from members of the public concerned about the welfare of meerkats kept as pets or regarding the sale of meerkats in local pet shops in unsuitable conditions. If you are concerned, please contact us.
Find a pet that's right for your family
Although we would never recommend a Meerkat as a pet, there're many animals in our care who could be the perfect pet for your family. Whether it's a gerbil, a mouse, a cat or a rat, by rehoming an animal from us you'll be helping to make a significant difference in an animal's life.