The 'gang' is here

Linda Quinlan

Move over, Timon, you have fellow meerkats vying for Rochester's affection.

Timon is the smart-aleck, spunky, lovable and loyal friend and protector from Disney's animated "The Lion King." He's also a meerkat, a small mammal that's a member of the mongoose family.

In the wild, they inhabit all parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and South Africa. A group of meerkats, usually five to 30 members, is called a "mob" or "gang." Now Rochester has three meerkats of its own, with three more on their way – forming their own gang.

The trio has taken up residence at Monroe County's Seneca Park Zoo, 2222 St. Paul St., Rochester.

They are no more than a foot tall and weigh a slight two pounds. They are perhaps best recognized by their slight stature and dark eye markings. Those eye markings act like built-in sunglasses, according to the Web site www.meerkats.com. They also have their own TV show, "Meerkat Manor," on cable. A camera follows around a group of them in the wild, struggling for survival and taking care of each other.

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks officially unveiled the new exhibit in the zoo's main building Sept. 6.

“Our new exhibit will enhance the unique experience for patrons of the zoo and will offer our children another opportunity to learn about animal conservation – right here in our community," Brooks said.

Surprisingly, meerkats are one of the most strictly regulated animals in the world, according to www.meerkats.com. They are called "the solar panel of the animal world," because they use their dark-skinned, sparsely furred bellies to warm up. They also use their eight-inch tails as a kind of tripod to balance themselves in an upright position.

Rochester's exhibit debuted with three female meerkats, ages 4, 5 and 6, from Waco, Texas. Three male meerkats are coming from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Rachel Baker August, executive director of the Seneca Park Zoo Society, described the newcomers as "energetic desert animals with unique mannerisms that are sure to delight both parents and children alike."

Eastman Savings and Loan is having a naming contest for the meerkats. The contest is open to children in the community. Media sponsor News 10 NBC will also have a Web cam of the meerkat exhibit that may be accessed on their Web site, www.whec.com.  

Linda Quinlan can be reached at (585) 394-0770, ext. 350, or at lquinlan@mpnewspapers.com.