Happy Families at London Zoo
Wednesday 2 April 2003
London Zoo celebrates the opening of three new homes for meerkats, otters and marmosets
Why not gather your brood and come and visit London Zoo's 'Happy Families'? Three new and exciting enclosures for some of the most family-orientated of animal species; meerkats, oriental short-clawed otters and Geoffroy's marmosets.
Open in time for the kids' Easter holidays, the new state-of-the-art enclosures feature landscaped scenery from the animals' three very different habitats; the dry savannah of southern Africa for the meerkats, the rivers of Asia for the otters, and the rainforests of South America for the marmosets.
Within their desert savannah the meerkats have the run of a three metre high weathered sandstone outcrop which incorporates specialised feeders that can be filled with their favourite food - mealworms. It will also act as a handy lookout point for 'sentinel duty', giving the meerkats the height needed to keep an eye on their new neighbours' comings and goings. For colder days, the enclosure has tunnels into a heated indoor den, which is situated within another rocky outcrop. A large window allows visitors to view these cosy meerkat moments.
Gerald Asher, leader of the team in charge of these mammals, said, "The meerkats live in active, close-knit family groups and one animal is on sentinel duty at all times while the others forage. The new enclosure has given them several ideal lookout points and a sandy substrate for foraging and digging."
Visitors will also be able to see the oriental short-clawed otter family enjoying a dip as they chase each other in and out of the pools and streams in their new enclosure. The pools are fed from a waterfall with a stream running down to the lower pool, where a large glass window allows visitors to see how graceful otters are underwater.
With many vistas around the enclosure, visitors will have excellent views of these playful, social animals. Should the otters be in their den areas, there are cameras inside to allow visitors the chance to see life behind the scenes and also to allow the keepers to monitor the otters at all times.
The final member of the happy family set are the Geoffroy's marmosets whose new enclosure is planted with thick foliage recreating their South American rainforest habitat in the heart of London. Their new home provides excellent opportunity for them to explore outside and forage naturally for their favourite food invertebrates.
In the wild they use their large incisors to gouge holes into trees to extract gum, so keepers will replicate that natural behaviour with specially designed gum feeders. Living in family groups, the male marmoset is the model of a modern father, taking on most of the care of youngsters, carrying them on his back and returning them to their mother to be suckled. These small monkeys are threatened in the wild by deforestation and are part of a European Endangered Species Programme.
Chris West, Zoological Director of ZSL said, "This is a new and exciting time for London Zoo. What is great about this new development is that it not only provides excellent improved facilities for the three animal species, but is also gives our visitors the stunning and exciting experience of seeing them in a naturalistic environment. These enclosures will form a major part of our ongoing renewal of the site and will set a benchmark for future work at the Zoo."
Notes to editors
- Meerkats are members of the mongoose family
- Meerkats live in the arid savannah of Southern Africa (Angola, Namibia, South Africa, and southern Botswana)
- A babysitter of either sex stays close to the burrow with the young
- Meerkats mainly feed on insects, spiders, roots and bulbs and other small animals including venomous millipedes and scorpions
- Prey is detected by smell, then dug up using the long non-retractable claws on the forepaws.
- A meerkat can 'close' its ears during foraging to protect them from dust and dirt
- Meerkats sunbathe in the early morning, their dark skin and sparsely furred underside helps to absorb the sun's heat
- Gestation is approximately 11 weeks, females give birth to two to five young in a nursery chamber of the burrow
- Meerkat is a South African Dutch word meaning 'lake cat'
- Otters are in the same family as weasels and stoats
- Otters are found on all continents except Australia, Oriental short clawed otters can be found in many countries in Asia
- In the wild Oriental short clawed otters like to eat, molluscs, frogs and other small aquatic animals, having very sensitive front feet to detect their food underwater
- Gestation is about 63 days
- On average an otter has one or two litters per giving birth to be between one and six kits, with both parents caring for the young
- Kits are blind at birth, opening their eyes after about 35 days
- London Zoo is currently home to a family of seven otters
Geoffroy's marmosets (sometimes known as white fronted marmosets)
- Marmosets live in east Brazil favouring secondary lowland, evergreen and semi-deciduous forest
- Average life span is approximately 10 years
- Marmosets are listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable
- Geoffroy's marmosets feed on fruit, invertebrates and will eat gum from trees
- Geoffroy's marmosets have a gestation period of around 140-145, giving birth to usually twins
- There are presently four Geoffroy's here at London Zoo
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL runs London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in 30 countries worldwide.
'Friends of ZSL' get free admission to both London Zoo and Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. Special Happy Families Open Day exclusively for ZSL membership: Sunday 25 May
For further information please contact the ZSL Press Office
Leana Rochman, Press Officer/Debbie Curtis, PR Manager
Tel: 020 7449 6361/020 7449 6363
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
PR Office mobile: 07889 043843
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