2008 ended sadly with the death of former dominant male Jolly Roger shortly before Christmas.
Autopsy result Today we visited the kats again and talked with one of the keepers. The results of the clinical investigation had just returned. They pointed out that Jolly Roger had a clostridial infection, possibly as the direct cause of death. However this was on top of, and possibly resulting from, a generally weakened state due to poor nutrition and hydration. i.e. his immune system was too weak to defend against something that might otherwise have been kept under control by the natural defenses of the body. Jolly Roger had been seen to eat well when he had a chance to, and of course was also observed by the keepers. but it was difficult to keep track of his health because he had become so intimidated that he ran away from absolutely anything. It probably boils down to this: his system was not able to keep up with the stress and he was using too much energy as he was always running and out in the cold.
Birth The great joyful event of this year was of course the birth of the three young kats in mid-July. These carry on the legacy of their father Jolly Roger. It was the first time for us to see meerkat babies, and we felt privileged to witness what we saw. We had last visited on July 12, when Möfzi was still pregnant, but it was obvious that she would give birth in the near future. On July 15 we returned again, and at first we saw only a few of the adult kats, but there were some other visitors pointing at something, and suddenly I heard the little high chirping sound of a baby meerkat - and there was Möfzi, carrying around a tiny baby.
In the first few days, the kats, especially Möfzi, seemed a bit confused and the babies were constantly brought out of the burrow and sometimes handled a bit roughly but they seem to be quite tough. We saw Möfzi carrying a baby again on July 16 and 19, at this time we did not know how many babies there were and couldn't tell whether she was always bringing out the same baby or different ones each time - we never saw more than one baby outside simultaneously.
Sayuri On July 19 we first noticed that "the baby" had a stubby tail, which had not been the case before - at that time we couldn't know whether it had somehow lost a part of its tail or there were several babies, some with long and short tails.
Today of course we know this was our first glimpse of little Sayuri, who had a very hard start in life due to her motion coordination problems.
As the next months showed Sayuri overcame her difficulties, and while there are some things she wil never be able to do quite like the other kats, she has developed into a strong and confident young meerkat girl. In the last weeks she has also mostly closed the gap in size with the other youngsters, and the juveniles are at first glance not so much smaller than Swingkat, the smallest of the adults.
The other kids, Snoutie and Caruso, never caused any concern for their health as they were always strong from the beginning on but of course we don't love them any less, we just always kept an eye out especially for little Sayuri.
Interestingly Sayuri is the one who has developed the most recognizable and assertive personality so far.
Snoutie With Snoutie we could recognize a very early interest in guard duty and since about four months of age he has been regularly standing guard, initially together with his father, but today it already seems that he is accepted as a proper guard. But we haven't been able to pin down as much in terms of characteristic behaviour for these two. They haven't had to face great difficulties in life as early and as much as Sayuri did.
Anarchy Right now the state of the mob is a little more quiet, Stubbytail isn't acting quite as terroristic anymore, but a true, constructive leadership has not yet emerged. Möfzi is only very slowly becoming more assertive.
Last time we visited, the grooming state of most kats was not very good.
This was especially conspicuous with Stubbytail, who despite his show of dominance does not seem to profit from it (normally, getting groomed by everybody is one of the main rewards of a dominant status).
Möfzi also did not look well combed. Only the youngsters and Swingkat looked properly taken care of.
It was obvious that the youngsters don't quite understand what is going on, as when Stubbytail initiated a vicious attack on Möfzi, they took this as opportunity to start some enthusiastic harmless playfighting with each other - not recognizing it as a very serious incident. We informed the keeper team of our observation of this attack, and they took care of Möfzi and put some disinfectant on her neck where she had been attacked.
The examination had however shown that she was mostly dishevelled and had only suffered a small superficial wound, however the effect of the attack on her was a clear shock.
Today this situation had improved, Möfzi looked reasonably groomed. Stubbytail is still looking somewhat unkempt and we haven't really witnessed any grooming going on for him.
Pictures Top and bottom row: January 1, 2009; middle row: December 26, 2008
Right: Little Sayuri trying to look innocent.
Right: Snoutie and Caruso on the "hot stone".