Nearly Frozen, Abandoned Baby Meerkats Bounce Back from Brink
"I found them in the morning. They were in middle of the pen where she'd dragged them out – just lying on the floor in the cold," recalls Jayne Collier, who runs the Axe Valley Bird and Animal Park in Kilmington, England, with her husband Andrew. "So I rescued them, otherwise they'd have frozen to death."
Collier scooped up the newborns and raced into the house. After putting them into a fingerless glove on top of the Collier's oil burning oven, the babies slowly warmed up. The meerkat pups, who were born blind, spent days living in the glove. "They were only as big as my thumb," Collier tells PEOPLEPets.com, "and they'd wriggled up the glove's fingers to get warm. But I didn't expect them to survive 48 hours."
For the next two months, Collier cared for the two boys day and night. Using a syringe, she fed them kitten formula milk at two-hour intervals (She eventually was able to scale back their feeding schedule so she could sleep through the night). At eight weeks, they were put on a diet of kitten food and mealworms.
As they grew, Wren and Rascal, who look identical, began to develop individual personalities. "Wren is much more laid-back than Rascal, who is very mischievous and wants to play all the time – he was the first one to stand on his hind legs trying to do the meerkat 'lookout pose,' " she says.
A hamster house served as a nursery for the babies but as soon as they were able to walk they were given free range of the Collier household. What's it like to have meerkats, who are not exactly domesticated, underfoot? "They just dig – they constantly scratch and dig – they dug up the grouting between our kitchen flagstones. And they dug the carpet until it all fluffed up," she says.
While they have an affectionate side – they like to be scratched under the chin or on their tummy – "they don't sit and cuddle like cats. They're on the go all the time," according to Collier. When their human family would go out for walks, the meerkats followed them everywhere. "We'd also take them around the farm with the dogs and cats. The Labradors are scared of them because the meerkats nipped at their legs," Collier says, adding, "And the cats don't know what to make of them."
Undaunted by their precarious start in life, Wren and Rascal are fearless and protective of their new family. "If anyone walked through the door of our house," she says, "they would go on the defense and charge."
Thanks to their unruly behavior, the pair now has their own pen complete with tunnels made out of drain pipes in the bird and animal park. Nearby is the enclosure that their parents and five siblings call home (Their mother has successfully raised two sets of litters). "They could never go back to the rest of the family or they'd fight to the death," she explains, "we'll eventually get one female and let the boys sort out who goes with her."
Meanwhile, the natives of southern Africa are proving a big draw for visitors. She tells us, "Everyone wants to see the meerkats."
See more surrogate mothers on PEOPLEPets.com:
PHOTO: Mama Dog Feeds Baby Lion Cub!
A Mother's Love: Dog Cares for Abandoned Piglet