Mom's the Boss in Animal Planet's Meerkat Manor
- Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Premiere Date: June 9, 2006, 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT)
Run Time: 30 min.
Creator/Distributor: Animal Planet
Mirroring the human species—and the times—in which females have seemingly eclipsed males in terms of dominance and relevance, Animal Planet's new Meerkat Manor reality/docu-drama series shows that mom's the boss in the wild and wooly world of these masked mammals.
Filmed over the course of 10 years as part of a Cambridge University study, the intriguing Meerkat Manor chronicles the lives of the "Whiskers" family in Africa's Kalahari Desert. Meerkats are members of the mongoose family, and the Whiskers' "mob" (as a meerkat family is called) includes each personality needed to make up a suitable Dynasty or other evening soap: there's Flower, the dominant female who shows she's in charge; Zaphod is Flower's attentive partner and the dominant male who stands taller than the rest; Shakespeare is the dutiful son who helps rescue his younger, newborn brother; Tosca is Flower's adult daughter who has gotten herself pregnant without parental permission; and so on and so forth.
In the first episode—narrated without pretentiousness by actor Sean Astin (24, The Lord of the Rings)—it's established that Flower has the power. She's one tough lady, and you sure don't want to cross her. After recently birthing four pups, this "working mom" has got things to do to ensure she has an adequate milk supply for her offspring, get ready to breed again and keep her 29-member mob in line.
Multiple cameras have been set up all around the Whiskers' three-square mile territory, and Flower wears a radio collar around her neck to track movement. The shots are up-close and personal, and the colors and sounds of nature are quite engaging for the viewer's experience. (One camera even makes it underground, down the seven-foot drop for the comings and goings at the family's main burrow.)
On this day in question, no sooner is the sun up than Flower is off with the rest of the mob commuting to their "jobs" as food foragers. But what about the kids? No worries! From the narration we learn that "childcare isn't a problem when you're a meerkat … males and females take turns babysitting the boss's babies."
While the family digs for their daily sustenance (scorpions [meerkats are immune to the venom], beetles, spiders, centipedes, etc.), dominant male Zaphod stands watch looking for a possible predator (martial eagles, jackals) that might be interested in making a meerkat its meal for that day.
Meanwhile back at the burrow, the newborns begin investigating their new world. As they observe the adults in charge, they eventually learn how to dig for themselves and to stand upright on "three legs" (a meerkat's tail will grow to 8" in length and helps them, like a tripod, to balance in an upright position).
It's not long before one of the sitters appears to fall asleep on the job, as the heat of the mid-day sun takes its toll. This gives one of the family's rowdy "teenagers" the opportunity to snatch away one of the newborns (Mitch) from the safety of the burrow and off to have some fun. Pretty soon, the pack of teens tire of their little brother and leave him alone and exposed in the wild. Thankfully, older brother Shakespeare happens by and returns Mitch back to the burrow. All is well.
But the day is still young for the subordinate Shakespeare. As he returns to forage with the rest of the Whiskers, they all discover a deadly puff adder snake that is squatting in one of their satellite burrows (for use as a quick get-away from predators when out and about). The whole family joins in to try and rid their property of the unwanted inhabitant, but the snake soon retaliates and bites Shakespeare in the face and the hind leg.
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