Learning is so simples for the smart Woburn meerkats

Meerkats at Woburn Safari Park
Meerkats at Woburn Safari Park

As children across the country prepare to go back to school, a lively mob of meerkats at Woburn Safari Park also headed to the classroom for life skills lessons.

Thanks to the Animal Encounters keepers in the Desert Springs enclosure, the mob’s first day started with a hearty ‘back to school’ breakfast of mealworms and pellets rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals keeping them happy, healthy and fuelled up ready for a fun day of learning.

The alpha meerkats, 5-year old female Sue and 8-year old male Spence, took charge of the ruler-tall students and introduced them to a new curriculum of the three Fs – food, foes and family, swapping out the traditional three Rs of reading writing and arithmetic!

The curious pupils were shown colourful books of pesky predators not to get eaten by in the wild such as reptiles, snakes, birds of prey and jackals. Meerkats make distinct noises to teach and warn their young and as the alpha duo had a white board and magnetic blackboard at their disposal it was a lively class.

Once the bell rang for break time the mob got to enjoy plenty of enrichment in their playground enclosure as keepers provided novelty school buses for them to explore. The species is naturally hierarchical, observant and curious, so the adorable pupils all got gold stars for their enthusiasm and good behaviour at the end of the day.

Lianne Paine, deputy head of section, animal encounters said: “Enrichment is at the heart of what we do so we regularly come up with new ways to keep our animals displaying natural behaviours. The idea came about as it’s the end of the school holidays and children will be heading back to school in September. As well as hiding food to encourage natural foraging we decided it was about time that Sue and Spence taught the others the ropes. It was fantastic to see as they loved playing with the toys and sniffing out their breakfast!”

Woburn is home to a 10-strong mob of meerkats who live alongside yellow mongoose and African crested porcupine in Desert Springs. Complete with termite mounds, desert sands and grasses, the enclosure has been specially designed to closely mimic their wild African habitat and encourage natural foraging, burrowing and breeding behaviours.

Families can meet the meerkats up-close on a special VIP ‘Desert Springs Encounter’. Under the supervision of a guide, guests can feed the meerkats their favourite insects and become a student themselves, learning first-hand about the mob and their fascinating behaviour.