6 new meerkats enliven zoo, but mystery of lost male lingers


POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The mystery of the missing meerkat remains unsolved, but the Honolulu Zoo has turned a page with the arrival of six new males.

;[Preview]    Mixed Plate: Honolulu Zoo Meerkat Manor

Honolulu Zoo has their Meerkat exhibit occupied once again with about six near residents.



In October 2007, Hulu, one of two meerkats at the zoo, disappeared, leaving partner Kapa to languish in loneliness and die shortly thereafter, zoo staffers observed.

Officials thought Hulu must have died in an underground burrow, but they searched and could not find his body. Neither were Hulu's remains found during a recent renovation of their exhibit, which was reopened yesterday by Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

The meerkats, members of the mongoose family, were welcomed into the upgraded African desertlike habitat, which cost the city $10,000, said zoo Director Stephen Walker. The renovations included a complete replacement of the ground material, where Hulu's body could have been hidden, but nothing was uncovered.

Walker can only deduce that Hulu was either kidnapped — “;though I doubt it; he would bite anyone's finger off”; — or escaped, which Walker also thought highly unlikely.

Still, a higher glass partition separating visitors from animals was installed, along with a new irrigation system. And new tunnels were added to two large faux anthills, he said.

Coralie Hartwell of Waikiki, a daily visitor to the zoo, enjoyed watching the meerkats tussle and dig.

“;It was just pitiful watching the last meerkat all by itself, so lonely,”; she said. “;It looked very lethargic. I came the day before it died.”;

So far, the new exhibit has won high marks.

“;Everybody is just going crazy,”; Walker said. “;They think they're the cutest animals they've ever seen. They really love 'em.”;

He added that zoo staff has already nicknamed three of the meerkats — Bobbles, White Tip and Peewee — after their personal characteristics.

Meerkats, native to the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, have benefited from an abundance of Hollywood and TV exposure.

Ask any child what a meerkat is and he could probably point to Timon, an animated character in the Disney movie “;The Lion King,”; said Walker. “;Meerkat Manor,”; a TV series on the Animal Planet network, has also boosted their public profile.

Only males, ages 1 to 5, were brought to Honolulu from a Texas zoo, to keep them from fighting over females and to avoid other complications, Walker said. The carnivorous meerkats are also capable of damaging native wildlife if they escape and breed, according to display signs.

Meerkats are described on the signs as active, “;highly gregarious,”; cooperative in caring for their young and “;altruistic”; in community living. A sentry always stands guard for foes like hawks, and gives a warning bark so others can run to safety.