I don’t know about you but when I was little I always wanted to be a zookeeper. So I decided to go home for a weekend and interview a small mammals’ zookeeper.  In the Milwaukee County Zoo the meerkat is located in the small mammals building. The Milwaukee County Zoo had a father, mother, and child meerkat in October of 1999.  But today the only survivor is the child.    The father died from heart complications while the mother died of brain/neurological problems.  Rhonda, the small mammals’ supervisor zoo keeper, told me that the child meerkat had been alone for about a year or so.  She told me that meerkats are very easy to take care of.  Rhonda also looked up the longevity of the meerkat in which she said they are expected to live around twelve years in captivity.  For more information look at the Reproduction page.   Her zookeeper also said that since this species thrives on being in groups or mobs.  She said that Sashie, the meerkat, is fine but she could do a lot better with a group of meerkats.  To read more about this go to the Interactions page.  She said that they are looking for a prospective male meerkat to introduce to Sashie, but she stated that introducing new meerkats are hard since normally they want to kill each other if they are not from the same group.  If Sashie was bonded with a male meerkat she would easily start a family and breed.  By starting off with a male instead of a group, Sashie could get use to this male and start her own family.  If a group was brought to the exhibit there would be tension and competition with each member.  If they had their own children they would naturally be a group instead of forcing Sashie to be part of a different group. 

Photo Taken by Amanda Hustad (Sashie at the Milwaukee County Zoo)

A certified enclosure by the wildlife department is necessary for the meerkats because they are injurious species.  An injurious species means that they could potentially hurt those around them and need to be watched at all times.  A story about Sashie is that she likes to sit up in a basket in the exhibit and peer out the window and watch the keeper make her food.  Rhonda said that Sashie is a very nosy creature that needs to know what the zookeepers are doing at all times of the day.  Everybody in the Small Mammals building gets fed at 2:30pm, so Sashie waits and watches with an extreme attention span to be fed.  Some effects of Sashie being alone are that she needs more interaction with other meerkats to give her something to do so she isn’t bored.  Also, Rhonda declared that Sashie use to cuddle with her parents before they went to sleep and Sashie was also extremely sassy probably as a result of her being an only child.  Sashie beat up her mother probably over food or stress levels, but the zookeeper weren’t exactly sure.   Sashie beat up her mother by biting her on the check and chewing the tip of the mother’s tail.  This behavior shows us that meerkat’s behavior can be overly aggressive even to meerkats of the same group.  Rhonda also told me that once blood is in the exhibit the meerkats’ get even more excited or riled up.  Could you imagine doing this to your mother?  Well Sashie’s mom forgave her because she would still cuddle with her mom at night.  The zookeeper wasn’t quite sure why this occurred between the mother and the daughter.  Rhonda is hoping that Sashie gets a mate because she says they are very easy to come by and that breeding meerkats aren’t too difficult.  She says that there are very few problems breeding in captivity once a male and female meerkat start mating.  One reason that meerkats come readily available is because meerkats get ousted from groups.  This happens because meerkats have a huge social dynamic and have a very complicated family life.  So, if you ever go to the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin check out to see if the meerkat family has expanded!  Click here to see the other cool animals the Milwaukee County Zoo has. 


Two zookeepers take care of all of the animals in the entire building.  On regular basis zookeepers medicate animals, feed and make the diets of each animal, observe the animals, clean exhibits every day, rearrange the exhibit, train animals to go in crates and scales so an accurate reading can take place. Observing each and every animal is important because you need to know when they are sick and when they aren’t acting right.  She said that animals are very good at hiding their injuries because in the wild the animal would just get killed.  Zoo keepers need to know if animals are eating, limping, or acting funny.  Another important task of a zookeeper is to enrich each animal because they get bored very quickly.  An example for the meerkat is that she would get food in a ball that she would have to figure out how to get the food out to eat.  Rhonda said that everyday isn’t the same and new situations come up all the time.  In the zoo setting Sashie eats dog food, cat canned food, fruits, veggies, sometimes egg, and a lot of bugs.  One thing Rhonda says is interesting about being a supervising zookeeper is because the Small Mammals’ Building is the only building that you can go into all of the exhibits and interact with all of the animals.  Other buildings you have to shift animals out before you go in or there is no interaction because the animals could potentially harm the zoo keeper.  Another reason that she likes it in the Small Mammals’ Building is because there is a lot of variety in species.  Rhonda was a zookeeper since 1999 and has been a supervisor for about three years.  I would personally like to thank her for her time to talk with me.

Photo by Amanda Hustad                    Photo taken by Amanda Hustad

*There has been some controversy regarding what family the meerkat is in previously the meerkat was in the Viverridae family, but now it is in the Herpestidae family.  The picture taken on the right was taken at the Milwaukee County Zoo in front of the actual meerkat exhibit.

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