Mobbed by meerkats

Weekend Glitz | Lisa Kao 10 Jul 2020

Having brought in pandas from China, kangaroos from Australia and penguins from the Southern Hemisphere, Ocean Park is now welcoming new residents from Africa. Little Meerkat and Giant Tortoise Adventure at Whiskers Harbour, which opened on July 1, gives you the chance to see 20 meerkats and two Aldabra Giant Tortoises without having to travel far.

Although meerkats originated in the western parts of southern Africa, the first five that arrived last year actually came from Zoos South Australia. Within a year, the three females and two males had adapted to their environment, made up two families or mobs, and produced 15 children.

Of the 15, Solomon and Hata have six, whereas Victor and Mata have nine. The remaining female joined Mata's family but has not had any offsprings. Ocean Park explained that it is the nature of meerkats to be monogamous.

Facilities in the exhibit have two different areas - indoor and outdoor - to accommodate the two mobs.

The mobs have different characteristics as well. Mata's family is more courageous and enjoys exploring, while Hata's is more cautious and alert to the surroundings.

Visitors to the exhibit will notice that the meerkats are always moving around, digging around in the sand. And there is always one standing upright on a high rock.

Ocean Park said the meerkats take turns to stand guard while the others play. When danger approaches, the guard barks or whistles to alert the family members.

With a strong family concept, it is impossible to have another pair in the family breeding so, when the meerkats are mature enough, the park will have to send them to pair up with meerkats from other zoos for reproduction.

The neighbors of the energetic meerkats are Aldabra Giant Tortoises, which are originally from the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. The two tortoises are now 15 years old, but they can live up to 150.

Arriving at the park in 2010 through a private donation, the tortoises were initially thought to be females, as it is hard to identify their gender when young. They were named Dai Mui and Sai Mui, or elder and younger sister in Cantonese.

Even though Ocean Park realized the mistake later, they did not change the males' names to prevent confusion.

Unlike the lively meerkats, it is rare to see the Aldabra tortoises move around. They sleep 18 hours a day on average and are most active at dawn and dusk.

However, Dai Mui and Sai Mui love eating and can sometimes be found enjoying some fruit during the day.

Dai Mui also loves staying in the water and can be spotted in the outdoor pond area.

The African animals have acclimatized to Hong Kong's summer quickly. When winters come, hidden heat sources under the stone will be switched on to keep them warm.

They are also not afraid of visitors, getting along well with humans. But Ocean Park reminds visitors not to make a sudden noise that would scare them.

Want to meet the animals in person? Online reservations for July 25 to August 31 are open to the public today.

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