Charming Animals, with Issues: 'Meerkat Manor' Meerkat Manor, the breakout hit show on the Animal Planet channel, follows a group of meerkats in South Africa's Kalihari Desert. In the wild, meerkats exhibit extremes of cooperation or conflict. Fans of Meerkat Manor say that the animals can offer life lessons for humans.

Charming Animals, with Issues: 'Meerkat Manor'

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NPR's Janaya Williams has been following one meerkat family drama on television.

JANAYA WILLIAMS: As for their television docu-soap, the Animal Planet Web site describes "Meerkat Manor" as "All My Children" meets "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom." Caroline Hawkins is the show's creator.

CAROLINE HAWKINS: It wasn't that I sat down with a master plan and thought what's a new way of doing wildlife. It's just that their social structure and the way meerkats behave just so obviously lends itself to that kind of treatment.


NARRATOR: Finally, young Daisy tries to rejoin the group unnoticed, but it's not going to work. She reeks of Carlos's aftershave, and despite her attempts to apologize, the group is confused and angry.

WILLIAMS: It may seem strange to anthropomorphize meerkats with personal names and human emotions, and Steve Scholls(ph), an animal keeper at the National Zoo in Washington, says that he tries not to do it. But when he talks about the meerkats he looks after, he can't help but to mention how they look you right in the eye.

STEVE SCHOLLS: They're very charming, very engaging, very harmonious, but they hit critical social situations, resources run out, there isn't enough food. Suddenly, yes, they become extremely nasty. The rate of infanticide in the wild, according to the literature, is extraordinarily high among meerkats, close to 80 percent.

WILLIAMS: Cheryl Gaines has been watching the show faithfully ever since stumbling onto the first episode last summer. She rattles off the interwoven storylines like they're about her best friends. There's Youssarian who was dropped on his head as a pup, Youssarian's older brother, Zaphod, and Zaphod's sons, Mitch and Columbus, not to mention the commandos. And she's fascinated by the confrontations between subordinate females and the ruthless dominant female, called Flower.

CHERYL GAINES: She's booted out Tosca. And she's booted out Mozart, though it looks like Mozart may be back in season three because her pups were killed by the commandos, and then she may be welcomed back. I mean, pancake was an evicted female and she's back.

WILLIAMS: Cheryl Gaines says it's difficult to watch so much conflict unfold onscreen, especially when it involves characters she's come to know and love. But watching an episode from season two with her husband, Gene, she says that the show teaches valuable lessons about life.

GAINES: Like other people say, this is not Disney World. You are not guaranteed happy endings.

GENE GAINES: These are not actors.

GAINES: Exactly. Just like in human life, you have to take the good times with the bad times.

WILLIAMS: Janaya Williams, NPR News, Washington.

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