Monday, October 02, 2006

Meerkat Manor Season 2

It may come as a surprise to those who know I can't watch or read anything where animals die (like March of the Penguins or Eight Below), but I'm hooked on Meerkat Manor. It's the story -- real life and death events -- of the Whiskers Meerkat family in the Kalahari Desert on Animal Planet every Friday night a 8:00 p.m.

Cambridge University biologists have spent 10 years studying the Meerkats and the critters are acclimated to humans, allowing humans to film them inside and outside their burrows, weight them, water them, etc.

Of course, to make it easier for viewers to keep track of the Meerkats, the biologists have given them all names. Like other animals, each Meerkat has a distinct personality and they have a complex society. (I never realized how complex!) Viewers get to watch them hunt, have pups, grow up, and have wars with rival families. Yes, that includes tragic and/or untimely deaths but we never actually see them die or see the bodies (except for one poor pup). We care about the Whiskers but we also see how tough life is for them and how hard they have to work to survive.

At the end of Season 1 we were left wondering about the fate of courageous little Shakespeare, who single-handedly defended his family's pups against a raid by a rival Meerkat family. Shakespeare is a tough little guy. He survived two bites from puff adder (enough poison to kill a human) and he only weighs two pounds! He survived and was one of the Whiskers' best fighters, but also a compassionate babysitter who took good care of the pups.

We were also left to wonder about the fate of Tosca, the rebellious female who was cast out of the family after having pups without the permission of Flower (Tosca's mom and the alpha female). The family was too big, so Tosca had to go. Tosca's odds of surviving on her own are slim, as are her odds of being accepted back into the family, so if she doesn't start her own family or get accepted by another tribe she will die.

SPOILER ALERT. If you don't want to know the fates of Shakespeare and Tosca, stop reading now.

I was looking forward to Season 2, but was very disappointed to learn that Shakespeare was never seen again after defending the pups (who survived unharmed). Unfortunately, Tosca wasn't seen again after the winter, so she presumably died. Poor little Shakespeare and Tosca! The good news is: 1. we didn't actually see them die or see any bodies, and 2. although the narrator said Tosca is probably dead, he didn't actually use that word to describe Shakespeare. Although it's implied that he is dead, there is still hope. He's a tough little guy and I still hope he somehow made it!

The US Meerkat Manor site and the UK Meerkat Manor site have lots of info about meerkats and the Cambridge study. They even need volunteers -- if you can commit to a year in the desert. I'd love to volunteer (if they had very short stints) but I'd be horrible at it. Instead of objectively studying the Meerkats, I'd try to save them all from predators, prevent rival families from fighting, and feed them all. If I lived closer to the Fellow Earthlings' Wildlife Center, Inc. in California I'd adopt a Meerkat so I could visit my furry little friend nose-to-nose. :)

UPDATE Oct. 7: I may not be able to watch Meerkat Manor any more. I'm still upset about Shakespeare and Tosca and this week we saw a baby from the Lazuli family killed by the Commando family. Poor little Bubble was carried away, crying for help, then the Commandos descended on her and killed her.

I'm also worried about Mozart. She's Flower's oldest daughter (and an altruistic and loving sister and babysitter) who may get kicked out of the family to fend for herself and probably die, just like her sister Tosca. Why? Because Flower is pregnant and cranky, food is in short supple in the winter, and Mozart has just mated with a roving male from another family.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who is worried and waiting to see what will happen next. Go to Google News and search for Meerkat Manor to see a surprising amount of news coverage. This real life-and-death soap is an unexpected hit for Animal Planet.

No comments: