Ahhh, “Meerkat Love.” Remember that hoary old song from the mid-1970s by that odd duo, Captain and Tennille? Yeah, I’m sorry to say that I remember it too. (A note to the unwary: I know that’s not the actual title of the song, but close enough for gubmint work, and as a “hook” for the purpose of this post, I think.)
As for Captain and Tenille, I have no idea why Daryl Dragon was impersonating some sort of military officer (CPT? Capt? CAPT? Lord, please don’t let me get it wrong; I don’t want to get in trouble), when it appears that he came from a musical family, served no time in the armed services at all, and seems to have spent most of his life in one band after another, until landing Toni Tenille sometime in the early ’70s, and enjoying a pretty successful decade at the top of the pops. What? Oh. Nevermind. I am wrong. Apparently, “Captain” is an honorific, bestowed on him by Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame, who called him “Captain Keyboard,” during his tenure with the group. Glad to have that sorted for myself, even at this late date. No stolen valor here. Not in a musical sense, anyway.
Back to the Meerkats. I’ve loved those little guys (and gals) for decades, ever since I saw a TV special about them, perhaps a National Geographic production, also probably in the 1970s or thereabouts. Even the origin of their name is fascinating. If it’s from the Dutch (which it may be, since the creatures’ range is largely southern Africa), then “meerkat” means “lake cat.” However, they’re not cats, and they inhabit the Kalahari and various other smaller deserts, so no water. “Mier” is an Afrikaans word meaning “termite”; therefore, “termite cats.” A bit closer, since 80 percent or so of their diets is composed of small insects, and they’re particularly fond of scavenging in termite mounds. But, still not cats. Then there’s the Sanskrit word which is written in the Roman alphabet as “merkata.” That means “monkey.” But that isn’t right either. Meerkats are neither monkey nor cats, but are actually mongooses/mongeese. So who knows? As many such things go, probably a combination of all of the above, and of people doing their best to identify a strange mammal that reminds them in size and behavior of both cats and small monkeys, and which eats bugs.
Meerkats weigh only a few pounds, and adults are about 15 inches long excluding their muscular tail, which adds another ten to their length. They live in packs called mobs, usually of a few dozen animals, and three or four mobs will often share a range. They’re social and highly interactive, although with a rigid social structure that limits reproduction to the dominant pair in the mob, and which results in adult death and infanticide, as adults jockey for position to enjoy the top spot, removing those who challenge them, and as any babies born to non-dominant females (who apparently haven’t heard about the pill) are rejected and either killed outright or left to die.
That’s the less charming aspect of their behavior. (We all have one. And some of us have more than one.) What we see on the “family-friendly” documentaries though are the lovely little creatures caring for each other, with both males and females babysitting the mob’s young. One after another takes turns to assume the characteristic “sentinel” pose, keeping watch over their fellow mobsters as they forage for food, and alerting them to predators.
They’re intriguing little animals. Some research indicates that their vicious strictures on, and control of, mob reproduction reduces inbreeding and keeps the genetic stock strong. Males and females who wish to become dominant generally have to leave the birth mob, find another (unrelated) one, and win the top spot there. Studies of the sentries watching over the group have revealed that meerkats have different “alarm” signals for airborne and terrestrial predators, and that their chirping and trilling escalates according to the urgency of the threat. There’s an organized and pre-determined response, based on the nature and threat level, and very often, all are kept safe.
Young meerkats are tended, not only by their parents, but also by submissive females who can lactate without gestating, and who feed them; and they are watched over by non-dominant males. The young are taught to hunt, and since scorpions are occasionally on the menu, they are taught how to kill them, when the adults bring live scorpions into the burrow for the kids to practice on. (Interestingly, the adults bite off the tails of the scorpions first, so that the children will not be stung to death.)
Oy, She! I hear some of you yelling. Why have you gone Full David Attenborough on us? What on earth does this post have to do with food? Or love? Your point is–what, exactly?
My points, and I do have several, are these: 1) I have to work food into this post somehow before it gets away from me; 2) it’s Valentine’s Day; 3) I love animals; and 4) good works are important. So, a charity that combines food, and animals, and Valentine’s Day — winner! And as ever, bonus points for a sense of humor, particularly when it comes to affairs of the heart.
Here we go:
EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) — Not only can you name a cockroach after your ex at the El Paso Zoo, but on Valentine’s Day the zoo will be feeding those cockroaches to the meerkats for their “Quit Bugging Me” event at 2:15 p.m. Feb. 14.
You can submit the name of yours or your friend’s ex by sending a direct message to the El Paso Zoo Facebook page by Feb. 10. On Valentine’s Day, zoo staff will decorate the meerkat exhibit with the submitted names and shortly after, in honor of those names, the meerkats will be fed cockroaches.
“This is a fun way to get the community involved in our daily enrichment activities,” said El Paso Zoo Event Coordinator Sarah Borrego. “The meerkats love to get cockroaches as a snack and what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by feeding them a cockroach named after your ex!”
The public is invited to attend the “Quit Bugging Me” event. The zoo will also show the event on Facebook Live and the meerkat webcam available on the zoo’s website www.elpasozoo.org.
The page where you can still, if you’re so minded, do the deed, is here: Quit Bugging Me.
And because we’re all globalists now:
The Helmsley Conservation Centre in the UK also gives you the opportunity to name a cockroach after your ex, although it’s unclear what they’ll do with it, other than that the first name of your former beloved will appear on the “Roach Board” on Valentine’s Day. Sounds good to me.
In addition, for those of you old enough to remember a Bronx Cheer, the Bronx Zoo gets in on the act, and promises to feed your named cockroach to an “animal” on, or just after the day. The San Antonio Zoo is starting its own Cry me a Cockroach program this year, which extends to other life forms, and which might give you the best value, since it incorporates thoughts of snakes, cockroaches, and reptiles all in one tidy little package — a triple whammy as it were.
A quick internet search will bring you to several similar endeavors, so please, have at it. Feed the beasties and help a good cause, while scoring some payback on them what done you wrong. Oh, and by the way, if you’re worried about feeding live creatures to the predators, don’t be. The sacrificial victims are already dead, and in fact, frozen. If you’re one of those
women people who believes that “revenge is a dish best served cold,” this gives a new meaning to the phrase. (Why didn’t I think of that sooner, myself? Freezer? Duh.)
If, like me, you generally shy away from spilling your guts about too-intimate matters online, or if you can’t quite bring yourself to “out” your mistakes so obviously (my list is rather short, I assure you; I’ve led a sheltered and pretty blameless life, and I’ve been married for almost 40 of my 65 years), just send an animal charity of your choice a small donation to show the love, and call it quits all round.
Wow. I feel so much better with all that off my chest.
Now. The final point of the post.
Who, among us, has eaten bugs? Or other bizarre, revolting, or just plain distasteful foods?
And in conclusion, a musical interlude. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and those you love: