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Meerkats as pets?

01/06/2010 11:54:06

Meerkat in a UK petshop. Credit The Captive Animals' Protection Society

UK campaigners seek end to meerkat pet trade

June 2010. UK citizens are up in arms over the trade in meerkats as pets following undercover investigations by the Captive Animals' Protection Society. The popularity of TV series like Meerkat Manor and a UK TV commercial for an insurance comparison website fronted by a computer-generated talking meerkat, has led to exotic pet dealers trading in the animals.

Meerkats, home to Southern African deserts, are mostly sold individually and can command prices between £600 and £1,500 each.

The Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS), a UK charity, has now turned its attention to discouraging people from buying the animals. Craig Redmond, Campaigns Director for the Captive Animals' Protection Society commented:

Sociable animals but often sold individually
"Meerkats are just the latest animal to become ‘fashionable' in the UK, but there is a huge amount of misery behind this trade. The vast majority are sold individually despite being incredibly social animals. Animal dealers know that while they can sell one for £700 they are unlikely to get customers willing to buy five or more together. And it is even less likely that they will be provided with a habitat suitable for a colony of meerkats.

"Tremendous psychological stress is caused to these animals when they are taken from their parents at a few weeks old to be hand-reared, kept caged and isolated. CAPS investigators posing as prospective customers have visited pet shops and private dealers and the advice we have been given was always wrong. Like all wild animals they have complex needs that cannot really be met in captivity, particularly in private homes.

"There is also a high risk of course that, being active and burrowing animals, meerkats will cause havoc to a house, which is why many sellers advise keeping them caged all the time."

The charity has set up a website pledge at where people can register their support for the campaign.

Several wildlife experts have already backed the campaign and advised people not to have a meerkat as a pet. Professor Tim Clutton-Brock, head of the Kalahari Meerkat Project said: "Meerkats are social animals that naturally live in family groups. Keeping them on their own under confined conditions is likely to lead to high stress levels."

Grant M. Mc Ilrath of The Meerkat Magic Conservation Project at Oudtshoorn, Western Cape commented: "Meerkats do not make suitable pets and should be left in the wild where they belong. They are highly sociable mammals that constantly require activity and care."

Caroline Hawkins, creator of the award-winning series Meerkat Manor, added: "Meerkats are social animals that naturally live in family groups. To deny them this and to prevent them from roaming freely is to extinguish the very character and vitality that makes them so appealing."

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