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Does the L.A. Zoo's only meerkat need company?

August 28, 2008 | 10:07 am

Are you worried about Chico, the (only) meerkat in residence at the Los Angeles Zoo? Well, some animal activists (inspired by no doubt by "Meerkat Manor") believe he needs company. Times staff writer Lynn Smith reports:

Chico, the meerkat in residence at the Los Angeles Zoo, is alone.

MeerkatWhether that is a tolerable state of affairs is being debated by zoo officials and animal activists whose support and affection for the small mammal has been fueled by cable television's popular “Meerkat Manor.”

As on the Animal Planet series, the meerkat is a highly social creature. The furry mammals forage together, serve as guards and baby sitters for each other, and even strategize about war tactics. And meerkats who violate clan rules suffer a most dire fate -- banishment.

Just as his TV brethren, Chico needs company, contend local activists.

"Kids ask, 'Where are his friends? He needs to have friends.' It's very sad," said Janelle Fisher of Sierra Madre, leader of the Chico Project, which has focused on the lone meerkat since his burrow mate died in January.

A website petition with about 900 signatures is hoping to persuade zoo officials either to get a few roommates for Chico or transfer him to another zoo, where he can make new friends. (It's at www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Help-Chico-live-like-a-meerkat-should.)

"They need companionship," said Fisher, who visits Chico every two weeks and likens the 9-year-old mammal's solitary condition to a virtual death sentence.

But zoo officials disagree. Meerkats can be managed as solitary animals with appropriate care, said Jason Jacobs, an L.A. Zoo spokesman. Other institutions, including the Denver Zoo, also tend to lone meerkats.

Jacobs said the zoo had talked with several institutions about relocating Chico, or obtaining other animals to join him, but he declined to name the institutions.

Photo: Heinrich Van Den Berg / Animal Planet

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