Meerkat day! Meerkat day! Squee!
My present that morning was another in the Audubon birds of prey series: a California condor! (Actually, it’s a special edition bird, not part of the birds of prey series. Details…)
Morgana and Brian arrived and we all poured our underslept bodies into the car and headed east into the desert. We had lunch at a Ruby’s Diner because it was close and reasonable, not because of any great desire to eat at a Ruby’s Diner. My bleu cheese burger had some icky bits in it, I’m sad to say, but the fries I stole off Morgana’s plate were yummy. Then we killed a few minutes at Hadley Orchards where, it turns out, Morgana and Brian had their first date. (They had date shakes.)
On the way to the meerkat sanctuary, Morgana and I practiced our inner squees, as we assumed it would bad to vocalize them and startle the meerkats. Essentially, we did some out-loud squees to try and get them out of our system.
And then we were there! We were met by Pam Bennett-Wallberg, Director of Fellow Earthings Wildlife Center, who immediately said I looked like Stockard Channing, which I took as a huge compliment. She proceeded to tell us a funny story about Stockard, who’s the new narrator of Meerkat Manor and who’d come to the sanctuary to meet the meerkats and managed to get her rented Porsche stuck… Heh.
Now, you have to realize, I’d been waiting for this for a year. The deal is, you donate $100 to the center, and as a perk of membership, you and up to three other people get to spend 2 hours with the meerkats. What I didn’t realize when I tried to schedule this for my birthday last year was that there was a 6–12 month waiting list. So I scheduled it for this year’s birthday. I tried not to jitter and show too much impatience as Pam showed us around the facility, made us signed release forms, etc. :-)
There were three enclosures, two with two meerkats and one with three. Meerkats can be very territorial, apparently. To pick them up, all you had to do was offer them food…in the form of live, wriggling mealworms. Thank gods we didn’t have to handle live bugs! Morgana and I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Pam also praised Morgana and I for not shrieking in high-pitched voices over the meerkats, which means our practice ahead of time had been a wise thing. She also was impressed that Morgana didn’t leap and scream when a couple of the meerkats “fought” for worms in her lap. Morgana laughed and pointed out that she had experience with crazed cats. A couple of little meerkats snarling adorable little meerkat snarls wasn’t going to bother her!
Anyway, Pam thought we were the coolest people ever, which was fun. She wanted to know all about the SCA and costuming and history, and my writing, and the fact that Ken and I had been to Africa, and the other animals we’d made a point of seeing (cheetahs, birds of prey, wolves, etc.), and kept commenting on how interesting we all were. She had us talking so much, we really didn’t get to hear all of her stories about Africa. She did talk about a book she’d written and a documentary she’d considered doing.
The meerkats, though. Head. Asplode. With Cuteness. They were…I’m going to do a crap job of describing it because they were just so freaking adorable. First up were Remi (F) and Suri (M) (no related to TomKat’s daughter). One of them wasn’t much for being held, but the other was. None of them specifically came over to be held or picked up, per se, but most of them were fine with being scooped up while they snorfled your other hand for tasty wriggly mealworms. We sat on low benches with our legs out, and held our hands by our ankles, and the one who liked to come up would run up our legs as we drew our hands up.
Next up was Kendi (F) and Rafiki (M). One of them wanted your hand flat (good for photo ops), whereas for the other, you fisted your hand and he or she would pry at your fingers to get to those yummy wriggling treats you were hiding.
Pam said that because these meerkats don’t have to deal with a lot of the problems live ones do (foraging for food, dodging predators, etc.), they can get bored—so they love having visitors. Plus they were smart, and knew exactly what it meant when we walked towards their enclosures—food! Between eating, they’d run around, scrabble in the dirt (they didn’t go into any full-on burrowing, probably because they knew they might miss out on food if they went too far), sit up on their little comfy chairs and look so cute you couldn’t stand it, scramble across our legs, cuddle with each other…
Our final stop was to meet Jengo (M), Nalo (M), and Bara (F). I swiftly twigged that Bara had clearer markings (not quite spots, but not quite stripes, either) than the other two. Turns out most people don’t even notice that! Go me! She’s from a different part of Africa. So she’s the only one of all of them that I can ID in the pictures. The rest of them have subtle stripes, whereas her colors are more pronounced.
I’m pretty sure it was Nalo who, after he’d eaten his fill, took up residence in the corner of the enclosure next to me. He was sitting up, looking around, checking things out, looking adorable. And I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t have stopped myself if I wanted to. Very, very slowly and carefully, I stuck out my forefinger. And he booped the end of my finger with his dirty little nose. (They all had dirty little noses! Squee!) So I reached out again, very, very slowly and carefully, and just barely brushed against the hairs on his little belly.
He was fine with that, so I did it again, with a little scritching. And again, and again, my brain dissolving into so much mush as I gave a meerkat belly scritches. He also let me scritch under his chin twice. I nearly died from the adorableness of it. I’m getting all squee-y again just typing this!
I managed to get one picture of myself doing this, and Ken got videos. In my picture his nictating membranes are over his eyes, so he looks like a little zombie meerkat. (Zombie meerkats! Squee!)
Eventually we had to go, after petting the dogs and the cat and thanking Pam profusely. What an amazing experience. Totally worth the wait! I’m so glad that I try to do something for my birthday when I can.
We stopped at The Old Spaghetti Factory on the way home, because nothing was going to make my birthday complete better than angel hair pasta with mizithra cheese and browned butter. (Well. There are a couple of other things. But Styx didn’t actually have a show this weekend.)
And then we came home, and slept for a long, long time.
Pretty much all I remember of Monday is finding a copy of Charles de Lint’s Tapping the Dream Tree as my next present. Oh, and when we ordered pizza that night, because it was my actual birthday, I got a stuffed-crust pepperoni-lover’s with onions and extra cheese. Urp.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled journal. At least 'til I get my write-up of the Ren Faire finished...