Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana... and meerkats like a banana, too

I returned from the meerkats about an hour ago.

Swingkat is much better and returning to his old self. I talked to his keeper and he told me that Swingkat gained 200 gr. weight in these last 10 days since his treatment started.

The wounds have healed and he is adapting to his new condition with less teeth.

About half an hour after I came, the kats got one big tray of fresh cheese mixed with bananas and they were literally wollowing in their food ;-)

They all had dirty paws and some hade cheese in their fur and on their noses. I made some pics of the kats wolfing down and of some really dirty faces.

I also took many pictures of Sayuri sitting up. She can do it now for almost any length of time without swaying or falling down.

When I came, I called her name and went to the spot where we would normally stand, when we vist the kats. And - it certainly was mere chance - she came running, her little stub tail raised in the air.

I`m trying to teach her to respond to her name. With Möfzi it will sometimes work. When you call her she`ll come, but sometimes she won`t. It`s like with cats, you call 4500 cats and maybe ONE cat will come... perhaps...

The keeper also told me that all of the adults suffer from sinus problems, and all of them on the right side of their noses. They do not know, where this comes from.

Stubbytail is on antibiotics, as he is affected worst of all. If these will not help, they will have to open the sinus and clean it out. It might also be an abscess.

Flat-Ears and Swingkat are treated as well for this sinus infection. The others are not affected as much.

Swingkat is still fragile, he started shivering, as the sun went down, but did not want to get inside. Only when Möfzi and some of the others retreated, he also went inside.

But the worst is over for him and he`s definitely on the mend.

Sayuri sitting up in the sun and Sayuri looking at the camera. Both pics are not brilliant as I had to fight with the camera ;-)

The kats wolfing down and Swingkat with banana-cheese facial and paw treatment...


Petition gegen die Verpackungsnovelle

Sorry folks, but this post has to be in German ;-) It is a petition against a German law which will result in an increase of shipping cost for customers and it also means an additional fee to pay for sellers.

As I sell my handmade meerkat products on the German platform Dawanda, some of the sellers decided to make a petition against this law... the rest of this post will be in German.

Liebe BesucherInnen dieser Webseite,

ab dem 1. Januar 2009 tritt die sogen. Verpackungsnovelle in Kraft. Mit dieser Novelle wird die Verwendung und Entsorgung von Packmaterial im Handel neu geregelt; auf alle Händler kommen durch diese Novelle Mehrkosten in derzeit noch unbekannter Höhe zu.

Für den Kunden oder die Kundin bedeutet dies, dass ab Januar 2009 die Versandkosten steigen werden.

Um Ihnen als KundInnen und uns als HändlerInnen diese Mehrkosten zu ersparen bzw. in erträglichem Rahmen zu halten, haben HändlerInnen der Internetplattform Dawanda hier beschlossen, eine Petition einzureichen.

Als Hauptpetentin möchte ich Sie/Euch bitten, die Petition mitzuzeichen, wir brauchen Ihre/Eure Stimme, damit die Petition gehört wird.

Auf dieser Seite des Deutschen Bundestages kann die Petition "Abfallwirtschaft - Kleine und mittlere Gewerbe nicht benachteiligen" mitgezeichnet werden:

Ihre/Eure Stimme kann etwas bewegen!


Swingkat reports back to duty. Caruso is a girl

These photos show Swingkat taking over guard duty again.

He declined any attempts by the young ones to initiate playfighting, obviously he still felt too weak to exert energy on mere play. He would just move away and sun himself in a different spot.

But he did climb up on the highest lookout hill and held guard duty alone or together with Stubbytail (Stummelschwänzchen).

He still tires quickly and will curl up tightly in a ball to conserve warmth and lock out all the noisy and boisterous activity of the juveniles. But he definitely seems well on the road to recovery. We will hope the best for the next weeks; it seems that now the crisis is past, the natural resilience of the meerkat species is revealing itself again.

The playfight pic shows Caruso, Snoutie and Orlok. Orlok loves playing with the young ones. he was always fond of biting into other meerkats, and it was like a gift from the gods for him to suddenly have these new friends who would never tire of playfighting :)

We are almost 100% sure now that Caruso is a girl. Probably we will keep the name however. There are examples of other meerkats who have gender-inverted names :)
The last of the three young ones (who is actually the biggest) is going by the name of Rüsselchen (Snoutie) because he has a bit of a funny nose. This is probably only a temporary "baby name" until we get to know him better :)

All photos were taken on October 19, 2008

Swingkat - good news

I just received a mail from Swingkat`s keeper.

His condition is improving and he is no longer fed separately from the group and he hates cat food ;-)

Swingkat will still have to learn to cope with his new situation, he can eat his mouse again, even though it takes him some time so that he will have to defend any leftovers from the other, faster kats.

I will try to visit again tomorrow or on Thursday, weather and time permitting. After some gloriously warm and sunny days the weather has changed.

Tonight temperatures are still mild, but we had some torrential rainfall in the afternoon and early evening.


Swingkat's condition has improved; photos - Swingkat, Sayuri and Möfzi.

Doro visited the Mob today and took these photos of Swingkat in his current condition. He's seen better days but it is a definite improvement over last week.
He will still have to learn to adapt to his new condition with less teeth though.

Two pics of Swingkat taken on Oct. 17. Note that his jaw isn't as deformed any more as on Oct. 11 and his general condition although still poor has improved.

Here are some older pics of Swingkat when he was healthy. At left, taking care of a baby on August 2 and at right, standing guard on April 26.

Swingkat has always taken his duties seriously whether as babysitter or sentry.

Sayuri Today again Sayuri could be seen standing up a lot, she is continuously improving. We have also noticed that she has developed a rather "high-legged" gait instead of hovering very close to the ground - in the beginning she was more crawling than anything else. At below left is a photo of the typical situation you would see her in when the pups were very young: While the other pups could already sit up properly, even stand a bit, and walk some range, she was often just lying around with her legs splayed away like a run-over frog.

Initially one could think that she was just generally weak or exhausted, but we soon observed that there was something "actively" wrong with her, i.e. you would see her starting some movement and suddenly flipping right over on her back from some sudden full-body twitch or convulsion. At this time one could see that she was almost unable to move in any certain direction because she would always flip over and couldn't regain her orientation. Her attempts of many hours to get out of the burrow then would result in total exhaustion and she would be lying around like this for hours, just trembling a bit.

The initial appearance when you saw her like this was that she lacked muscle tone or was just generally weakened, but if you observed her for a longer time you could see that there had to be something wrong with the control of her movements, and the exhaustion was probably secondary, it resulted from her endless attempts to get anywhere.

Moving around is difficult enough for a young meerkat pup and her attempts were always confounded by these convulsions that really seemed to strike her like lightning bolts.

In general, after a while one of the adults would carry her around to wherever the other pups were. We also often found that she was very dirty, perhaps because she rolled into some muddy puddle that the other pups were able to avoid. However the adults usually cleaned her up rather quickly.

This was the time when we really didn't know whether she would pull through.

She has progressed enormously from this point, at right you can see her biting into one of her littermates during a playfight. The turnaround was when she was ca. 1 month old.

She has become quite assertive! If she didn't have her handicap, with her indomitable personality she would probably have the quality for taking over one day as DF from Möfzi. But perhaps coping with her handicap is also part of what created that personality.

Left: August 2, Sayuri (the pup at right in the image) and one of the other pups. Note that the other pup, looking to the left, is sitting up properly and Sayuri is just smashed on the ground.
Right: On September 20 Sayuri takes a bite out of one of her siblings :)

Möfzi And here are two more pics of Möfzi, one showing her with mouth wide open (you can see where a canine is missing) in a playfight with Jolly Roger on August 30, and the other showing her seconds before falling asleep, as a tired mother on July 27.


Photos - poor Swingkat and an ever-stronger Sayuri

Top: Swingkat on Oct. 11 - he's very emaciated, jaw deformed.
Below left: how Swingkat looked on July 27. A happy kat.
Below right: Sayuri on one of the lookout hills.

Swingkat Update - Bad News

I just received a mail from one of the keepers regarding Swingkat`s health.

Swingkat broke one of his lower right canines and the broken tooth became infected. This infection had spread to his lower right jaw also afflicting the bone.

His teeth on the lower right side had to be removed completely and he is now on antibiotics which will last for ten days. The vet will see him again next week.

He is fed with soft food and after he will be healed (hopefully) he will only be able to cut his mice on the left side of his jaw.

So Swingkat will have to be monitored closely as he will then need a lot of time for eating.

Another thing is that two adults have to be treated as well because of sinus infection. We already noticed that Flat-Ears (Plattohr) and Stubbytail (Stummelschwänzchen) had weeping sores on their noses but did not connect this with sinus infection.

Please keep your fingers crossed that Swingkat will soon be able to eat and be his old self again! He is such a sweet little darling and my favourite kat.

I`m really devastated right now and can only write this post with the help of a glass of strong red wine to keep me from weeping.

Under these circumstances I will absolutely visit again tomorrow, rain or shine.


Swingkat Update

I visited this afternoon and talked to one of the keepers.

He told me that Swingkat was fed seperately from the rest of the mob and got cat food and a big mouse.

He ate this mouse, but it took him a long time and a lot of effort. The keeper also told me that one could see that something inside his mouth was wrong and that Swingkat will see the vet tomorrow morning.

The whole mob will be taken inside so that Swingkat can be treated.

As he had the opportunity to eat properly today, he was not quite as apathetic and moved around in the enclosure always in search of more food. I could sneek in some additional piece of boiled egg, which he ate greedily.

I touched his chin, a thing he normally would tolerate or ignore completely, but today he moved away quickly from my touch as it was obviously painful for him.

The complete underside of his jaw felt swollen and hot and his fur, which is normally shiny and will only stand up when he is in his winter coat, is all tousled and his sweet little face it a mess.

I hope that the treatment will be sucessful and he will be back to normal again soon.

If time permits, I will pay a short visit tomorrow in the later afternoon and hopefully talk to one of the keepers again.

Something nice and unexpected happend as well today: I touched little Sayuri.

She was on one of the tree trunks close to the fencing of the enclosure and I could not resist to put my hand inside, close to her. She was very interessted and relaxed and came up to my hand, sniffing it and trying to sit up to inspect it more closely.

As she still has trouble sitting up and doing something else simultaneously, it ended with her chin on my hand and then with her rolling down the tree trunk ;-)

To my surprise she had no intention of biting me.

I would not try this with the other two pups, they look so intent on biting into anything they can get...

Sayuri can do it but Swingkat is in trouble...

Today we visited the Mundenhof mob again. There is good news and bad news.

The good news is about Sayuri. We have been very surprised and delighted about her progress in general. During the time when we were on vacation in August we were very worried that perhaps there would be only two pups when we returned and we also got an email from one of the keepers during that time that did not sound very hopeful. But she has pulled through and developed into a very strong personality full of joy for life.
Flashback - to sum up, Sayuri was born with a neural condition that causes problems with coordination of her movements and her sense of balance. We do not know exactly what it is and whether there is a causal relationship with the fact that she has an extremely short tail; a similar combination can show up in dogs (and humans...) in cases of spina bifida. Many of her symptoms fit in with damage of the cerebellum - what is described as 'Cerebellar tremor (also known as "intention tremor")', and Dysmetria / Asynergy. However she does not have any indication of general problems with muscle tone or strength.
Today was the first time we saw her jump up onto one of the lookout hills, the smaller but steeper one. We have observed that she finds her own "special solutions" for many challenges.

There are many things that she cannot do just by following the instincts of her body like the other meerkats because her muscles will simply not get the right signals.

For instance, all the other kats will just jump up to the stone beneath the heatlamp in the interior enclosure from some random angle. It is natural for them that they can size up the distance and angle, and their brain will subconsciously send the exact right signals to their muscles to always jump exactly the right way and land perfectly.
This is what does not work with Sayuri. It is not an issue of muscle strength, she is quite strong although a bit smaller than the rest of the kats. If she tries to jump like this, she will usually just land on her back with all legs kicking in a not very dignified pose (can meerkats be embarassed; sometimes I think so!) - Landing in general is something she is not good at.

So the tremendous work that Sayuri does is to find conscious solutions for all these things. She will develop a workaround, memorize it, and use that, until she finds another, better one - or by exercise learns to accomplish it the "proper" way. For instance whe she wants to get up to the stone under the heatlamp, she looks for a certain point on the concrete ledge quite a bit away from the stone, pulls herself up with her front paws up onto the ledge, and then walks over the narrow ledge to the stone. The ledge is about as high as she is when she stretches out fully.

No other meerkat will ever get up on the stone like this - for a "normal" meerkat it is just natural to jump from wherever they stand. but Sayuri has to look at each situation like this and find her own complex trick to get where the other kats are. We have observed quite a few instances of her finding such solutions for different problems in the enclosure. It is very interesting to see how an animal like this copes with such a situation. In fact humans with cerebellar injuries can have similar issues.

One result of this is that many of the little daily things that a meerkat does naturally, are hard work for her. When she gets tired, and she can't concentrate anymore, her movements get very uncoordinated and she becomes quite helpless and miserable to watch. As soon as she's gotten a short nap and can focus again, she performs much better.

We were very disturbed when we watched her once, tottering about like a punch-drunk boxer in the last round, not even able to find a direction to walk in, and thought she had a serious relapse or even some additional brain damage - but then after half an hour of rest she was reborn.

Another thing is that she has a problem multitasking. The other pups have no problem walking forward, and looking up into the air (watching a plane, ec) at the same time. This is very hard for her to do and she will usually stumble, or have to stop in her tracks.

She can run as fast as the others over open ground but she careens about a bit and when she runs along the side of the enclosure, where there is a kind of "fast track" along a wall that leads to the interior part, she will bounce off the wall a bit like a badly driven race car in a video game. But she gets there!

Sayuri was not able to get out of the burrow when she was ca 3-4 weeks old and this was a time when the meerkats still got their nourishment from their mother's milk, but she mostly fed them overground.

So Sayuri was only able to drink at night when the entire family was in the burrow, while the other pups could drink all day. This is probably where she got her developmental lag in terms of size but ever since the pups have started to eat their own solid food she has been closing the gap. Probably she will always remain somewhat smaller though.

She is very intense and serious in her defence of food and often starts spit-calling, growling and lunging at competitors (even the dominant male!) right away, when anyone shows even the slightes interest in her food - or gets close enough she imagines an interest - , probably because this is just "no fun" for her remembering that hunger.

At this point we are sure Sayuri will grow up to be a very special meerkat who will, sometimes in a roundabout way and with some strange tricks, be able to do most of the things all other kats can.

She will never stand as tall and free as the great sentries like Plattohr, and will never wrestle quite as elegantly on two legs as the others, but she has learned to lead a rich and fulfilled life despite her handicap and is full of energy.

One thing we observed very early on with her is that she NEVER GIVES UP. even when she literally couldn't make it out of the burrow she would try for hours and in the end appeared in some obscure hole at the lowest point of the enclosure, that was totally forgotten. This caused quite some distress with the adults who then rescued her from this desolation.

So that is the good news about Sayuri.

Sadly we have a new problem case and that is Swingkat (Schaukelmännchen), one of five males who joined the group in Autumn of 2002 as very young juveniles.

We noticed that he has a deformed face and lower jaw and that he has lost a horrific amount of weight.

He is very emaciated, his face which was always kind of "childish" looks aged, his bones stick out and he looks almost as if he would break apart in the middle. He was always the smallest of the adults anyway. He also has problems eating; there were some corn (maize) kernels strewn about which are not extremely attractive for meerkats, but Sayuri was able to eat them, and normally a desperately hungry meerkat would go for something like this to fill up, but Swingkat ignored them. We reported the situation to one of the keepers and he came around with some mealworms, that Swingkat devoured ferociously. Swingkat has always been an absolute darling with the pups but in this case, on the brink of starvation, he viciously defended his meal against the pups, which are actually a problem for him in this situation, because they are very agile and will take away most of his meals - because it takes him so long to chew them up and he will always have to drop an item of food and pick it up again and again. We observed this when he was eating a tiny "cherry tomato" which a meerkat will usually crush and gulp, this was quite a a challenge for him.

The best guess right now is an abscess somewhere in the lower right jaw, according to the photos. He will be seeing the vet on Monday. We know how tough meerkats are from Meerkat Manor, were in some episodes you could see quite horribly emaciated meerkats that were still able to forage. However meerkats do not store energy in fat reserves and if they fall ill and can't get enough energy into their body it is a serious problem. A meerkat that can't eat properly will get into serious danger within a few days. We could see how Swingkat instantly developed more energy and was not as listless and immobile after getting his additional treats.

We hope very much that with some supplemental feeding, attention, probably antibiotics and perhaps pulling a rotten tooth our little Swingkat will pull through. A this moment we cannot tell what the cause of his illness is but we are hoping that it is something relatively simple as a tooth abscess, because this fits with the swelling on his jaw and his trouble chewing/biting, and would explain his weight loss as we saw how he lost most of his food to the vigorous pups, and he is unable to eat items like mice in this situation.

Back in 2004 we observed something similar with Stubbytail (Stummelschwänzchen) who also developed an abscess; he would carry away his mouse normally but would be unable to do anything with it, he would fumble about with it with increasing frustration and finally creep away to stay hungry while someone else ate the mouse.

The problem is that from a viewpoint of "getting food" a meerkat at this point seems normal - you have to stay around to make sure that everything is eaten. During the busy schedule that exists at the animal park, it is therefore possible that Swingkat's condition when it initially developed was not obvious to the keepers, because he picked up his mouse normally - and Swingkat anyway is one of the kats who often retreats a bit with his item of food.

What is it with the abscesses, they generally seem relatively common, and this may have something to do with all the trash that is thrown in by undisciplined visitors. We've seen anything from ice cream, french fries, pasta leftovers, cake, salt crackers, baloney to... the devil knows.

Dental health in general is not too good in the group, there are some kats who seem to be remarkably immune but several of the males have strangely rounded teeth that look as if they are molten down, or partially dissolved - as if they were made of ice and mostly thawed away. So the canines which should be quite sharp are like rounded pebbles. Möfzi has some time ago lost one of her lower canines but this could be unrelated to food issues, as she is also the oldest kat in the group and we don't know how exactly how old she is, we have known her for 8 years but she is probably at least 9 - unless she was not a pup when the meerkat display was opened, in which case she might be even older yet.

Ironically the kat which we were originally most worried about in terms of dental health was Plattohr (Flat-Ears) who had some very brown/black teeth from a quite early age, but together with Orlok he has some of the finest meerkat canines left in the group.

We will post a few photos next week and keep everyone informed as to how Swingkat's condition develops.

Of course we love all of the meerkats but Swingkat has always had a special place in our hearts because of his playful antics, his personality which mixes mischieviousness, some shyness but also a lot of brazenness. And he has always just been "the cutest" until the pups emerged :)


Caruso - the "singing" meerkat pup

A couple of days ago we decided to name another one of the pups.

As this little guy (we still don`t know, if its a male or a female) loves to screech so much and its voice is really squeaky, Christian suggested "Caruso" as an adequate name (see also "noisy meerkat pups") .

And if it`s a girl, we`ll change the name to either Montserrat (Caballé) or Maria Callas ;-)

I visited yesterday in really fine and warm October sun,

As it was around feeding time, the kats were already on the lookout for either "THE CAR" or "THE CART".

As soon as they spy either, they will get very excited, running to the door of their enclosure. If either vehicle doesn`t approach fast enough, they will start running up and down and pawing the glass frantically.

So this day was a GREAT day, as THE CAR AND THE CART arrived both!

The first snack they got were locusts which they had gobbled down within seconds.

I had the chance to talk to one of the keepers and he told me that Sayuri will now get up onto the large hill, too!

She is making great progress, her movements are getting more and more coordinated and when walking or running, she will no longer do this "crouching" close to the ground, but pushing her legs up like the other two pups do.

As their second course they got one big tray full of assorted cut vegetables, fruits and baby mice.

The baby mice were gobbled up within 30 seconds or so with Möfzi defending the last mice for herself.

As the dry vegetation had been removed from the enclosure some weeks ago, the meerkats now got the root balls of some large potted plants to scratch and destroy.

Shortly after feeding time everyone made a cat nap under the heat lamps.

I used the kats`napping time to take some pictures of my new christmas meerkats in the forest nearby.

Usually Christian will take pictures of my products, but this time he was busy and so I tried to do it myself. It was really fun and the forest had an enchanted atmosphere with the rays of the late afternoon sun coming through the foliage (which is still astonishingly green).

After about 1 hour or so I returned to the meerkat enclosure to watch the kats some more. They were quite active and Caruso was squeaking and screeching at the top of his lung very much to the visitors`amusement.

When he walked by and suddenly made a particularly lound and indignant "breeeehhh"-sound some of his "audience" burst into laughter. We`ll be looking forward to the next performance of this little meerkat voice artist ;-)

I hope I`ll soon be able to include some of his performances into the blog.