For the first time in 16 years, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) in Washington, D.C., is rejoicing over the birth of three adorable meerkats. The keepers at the Small Mammal House arrived on May 10 to find that 5-year-old Sadie had given birth overnight, making it a momentous occasion for the zoo. This joyous event was made possible by the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) to breed Sadie and the pups’ 6-year-old father, Frankie. While these pups mark Sadie’s first offspring, Frankie has previously sired offspring at his former zoo. Visitors can now catch a glimpse of NZCBI’s meerkat mob, including Sadie’s sister, Stella, at the Small Mammal House.

In their natural habitat, meerkat pups typically spend around three weeks in an underground burrow. To encourage the meerkats’ natural burrowing behavior, the Small Mammal House has incorporated a system of concealed tubing along the outskirts of their habitat, mimicking an underground burrow. At the end of the tunnel, a nest box has been placed to offer visitors a view of the meerkats’ underground sleeping chamber. However, on the day Sadie gave birth, she surprised keepers by bringing her pups into the main exhibit space.

In order to allow the meerkat family to bond and care for the pups without any interference, the animal care staff is taking a hands-off approach. They closely monitor the family dynamics and have witnessed Sadie nursing her offspring, who appear to be healthy and robust. Since the keepers and veterinarians are not handling the pups, it may take some time before their sexes can be determined. Currently, at 14 days old, the pups are starting to open their eyes and explore their habitat.

The breeding recommendation from the SSP scientists takes into account various factors such as genetic makeup, health, and temperament. Sadie and Stella, the sisters, were originally from the Brevard Zoo in Florida, while Frankie arrived from the Los Angeles Zoo in California. All three meerkats joined the NZCBI in November 2022. The keepers describe the meerkats as sociable, energetic, and inquisitive. Frankie, in particular, is laid-back and gentle when taking food from the keepers’ hands. Sadie and Stella, on the other hand, are bold and readily approach the keepers. After a successful initial introduction last winter, the three adults bonded well, resulting in their breeding.

Meerkats, native to southern Africa, inhabit the dry open plains, savannas, and grasslands of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa. Adult meerkats rotate sentinel duty throughout the day, keeping an eye out for predators. The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently categorizes meerkats as being of least concern, reflecting their stable population in the wild.

The birth of the three meerkat pups at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is not only a cause for celebration but also a significant achievement in conservation efforts. By carefully considering genetic diversity and other factors, the zoo and the SSP contribute to the long-term survival of these charismatic creatures. Visitors to the Small Mammal House can now witness firsthand the thriving meerkat family, fostering a deeper appreciation for these fascinating animals and the importance of their preservation in the wild.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/EditorEditor-in-Chief

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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