Cute Alert: Meet LA Zoo's New Meerkats

LOS ANGELES -- A new batch of meerkats has joined the Los Angeles Zoo, it was announced Thursday.

Four of the furry mammals came from the North Carolina Zoo and are housed in the meerkat habitat near the zoo's flamingos.

"These four youngsters scurry around the habitat, dig for food and are extremely curious about all the sights and sounds of their new habitat," the zoo said in a statement.

The fifth meerkat, Barky, was brought in from the Virginia Zoo as a companion to Chico, an older meerkat whose companion had passed away. Because the animals are highly territorial and rarely introduce new members to their gang, Chico lived at the LA Zoo as a solitary animal.

"As Chico is an older meerkat with some missing teeth and arthritis, he would not have been able to defend himself against a group. When zoo staff learned about Barky, an older male at the Virginia Zoo, the decision was made to bring Barky to Los Angeles as a companion for Chico. Barky and Chico live in the Children's Zoo, where a special exhibit has been prepared for the two older animals with nest boxes and easier climbing opportunities," the zoo said in a statement.

"As one of our older residents, Chico requires some special care, so we knew introducing him to a group probably wasn't in his best interest. We were happy to work with the Virginia Zoo to provide a companion animal for him. Now we have two mobs and it's a great opportunity for our visitors to observe meerkats," said states zoo director John Lewis.

Native to southern Africa, meerkats inhabit complex systems of burrows in dry, open country. They either dig these burrows themselves or they acquire and share them with African ground squirrels or yellow mongooses.

Meerkats live in matriarchal groups called mobs. These mobs are comprised of an alpha mating pair, their pups and other adults. Each member has a special role. Non-alpha females baby-sit pups, protecting and nourishing them. Sentries stand on high ground and scan the surrounding area for predators while the rest of the mob forages for food. Teachers or mentors train weaned pups how to hunt, forage and protect themselves. Meerkats are omnivorous. Their diet consists of insects, larvae, ground-nesting birds, eggs, centipedes, small rodents, reptiles and scorpions.

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the 134 and 5 freeways. Admission is $12 for adults and $7 for children (ages 2 to 12). The Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call 323-644-4200 or visit www.lazoo.org.

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