Do meerkats *really* make terrible pets?

Hedgehogs, Rabbits, Skunks, Squirrels, Bats, genets, civets etc.

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Do meerkats *really* make terrible pets?

Postby TexasYankee » Tue May 19, 2015 3:21 pm

Meerkats are legal as pets in the United Kingdom, where the media uses them to depict all the worst stereotypes of exotic pet keepers. If the tabloids are to believed, people in the United Kingdom are buying meerkats whenever a meerkat appears on television, and abandon them or release them into the wild when they realize that adult meerkats are demanding and destructive. And unfortunately idiots are doing exactly that, just as they did with parrots, monkeys, iguanas, boa constrictors, and pretty much any other exotic animal ever sold as pets.

What's interesting, though not particularly surprising, is that zookeepers maintain that meerkats aren't good pets for anyone, because they need to be kept in large groups, need to be allowed to dig, and can't be kept in a house. The tabloid article I linked was interesting, because it included a couple of responsible meerkat keepers (i.e. not idiots who think that because it's small, cute, and furry like a cat, it will act like a cat). These people kept at least two meerkats, socialized them extensively, and tolerated the destructive behavior that comes with keeping many exotic animals indoors.

However zookeepers would continue to insist that meerkats are inappropriate as pets for anyone, and of course the top comments on the article were people insisting that anybody with a degree in zoology should know better than to keep pet meerkats. (To be fair, with pretty much any DailyMail article, I know that the top comments are going to make me mad. DailyMail comments are the very British quintessence of condescending, parochial, militant ignorance.)

So of course I wonder: If you know about their diet and habits, keep at least two, provide plenty of stimulus, and are willing to put up with destructive behavior, would meerkats make acceptable housepets?

Note that my definition of a "good housepet" is one which will not inflict significant harm on its keeper, will not attack guests unprovoked (i.e. when they don't try to pet the animal or get too close to its keeper), and will not suffer from being kept in a house with proper stimulus. Messy behavior, destructive behavior, and defensive and mate-guarding aggression towards guests are tolerable in my book. Mess can be cleaned; toys, a play area, closed doors, and cheap living-room furniture can minimize the effects of destruction; and you really should warn guests how to behave around any animal that's loose in their presence anyways.
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Re: Do meerkats *really* make terrible pets?

Postby TamanduaGirl » Tue May 19, 2015 3:52 pm

Yeah I know some keepers of them in the UK. They are sorta common as more exotic, exotic pets go. They do keep them in groups. Plus the British consider bottle raising the young to make them tame as taboo so that makes them even less desirable as house pets but they keep them in enclosures in groups that allow some visiting and handling. One person did have one they had to hand raised and preferred in the house with them. But they were trying to integrate him into a group since that's the acceptable way to keep them over there.

My dream someday is to get some slender mongoose imported from somewhere and get them to breed then hand raise the young. Since they are one of the legal ones in USA and I've seen them in private hands on occasion in the past in places like Denmark. Along with the expense of that, I'll also need a prohibited species permit for my state but it's not an impossible dream just not doable yet.
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Re: Do meerkats *really* make terrible pets?

Postby TexasYankee » Tue May 19, 2015 4:22 pm

The interesting, and frustrating, thing about the mongoose ban is that there appears there may be no legal basis for it. The FWS in its list of injurious wildlife claims that the ban on mongooses and meerkats stems from the original Lacey Act, passed by Congress. The text of the act bans the importation "of the mongoose of the species Herpestes auropunctatus". It very explicitly bans only the small Asian mongoose, an animal with a proven record of invasiveness.

The Lacey Act also gives the Secretary of Agriculture the power to add additional species, and he delegated that authority to the FWS. So the FWS does have the power to ban other species of mongoose, but if they went through the normal means it is highly unlikely that even other Herspertes sp. would be banned, let alone other species.

However challenging the ban would mean finding out when the ban on other mongooses was instated, finding a way to challenge it in court and/or lobbying the FWS to change its position. The FWS simply ignored my email, politely inquiring about the origin of the ban, and the origin is important. If the Secretary of Agriculture explicitly said in the early 20th century "let's ban all these mongoose genera just to be safe," it probably wouldn't be possible to challenge legally, since he had that authority. If the FWS is responsible for the ban, however, it would still mean getting the money for a legal challenge, and I doubt it would be cheap.
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Re: Do meerkats *really* make terrible pets?

Postby Ash » Tue May 19, 2015 11:51 pm

Mongoose can become very invasive, actually, so there is a reason for them to ban them. I don't agree with it, but the US has first-hand evidence. I know they decimated native populations when introduced to Hawaii, and they could probably thrive in a lot of areas in the US.

I think what they should do is issue special permits to people who want to breed potentially invasive or invasive species. Then have all of the animals and young micro-chipped. I think that would be fine, honestly. And then if they are spayed or neutered, then really, who cares who owns them? They're not going to become invasive anywhere if they don't have a method of reproducing.
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Re: Do meerkats *really* make terrible pets?

Postby TexasYankee » Wed May 20, 2015 1:18 am

The small Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus, banned as H. auropunctatus) can become invasive, and indeed had become invasive on numerous small islands including Hawaii when it was banned. Even the closely-related Indian mongoose (H. edwardsii) has never been invasive, even though Hawaiian media often calls H. javanicus "Indian mongoose."

I can see a justification for banning all Hespertes sp. as a precautionary measure, but Congress explicitly decided not to do so. Likewise, when the FWS banned the common brush-tailed possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) after a period of public comment, they made the decision not to ban other Trichosurus sp.

In light of this, the ban on the genera Atilax, Cynictis, Helogale, Ichneumia, Mungos, and Suricata is rather baffling. All are African species with rather specific habitat requirements. All but two (Atilax and Ichneumia) are highly social, quite unlike the solitary H. javanicus. It seems highly unlikely that if the FWS had added the species via the normal process.

Instead, the FWS falsely claims that all seven listed genera of mongoose and meerkat (both the meerkat and yellow mongoose/red meerkat are banned) are prohibited in their entirety based on the original Lacey Act. When I ask them how these genera came to be banned, and why those specific genera were chosen, they ignored my email.

I strongly suspect that some employee at the FWS, seeing what H. javanicus did to Hawaii and knowing nothing about mongooses otherwise, looked up "mongoose" in an encyclopedia and quietly added all genera listed in the entry. I suspect that since that time the FWS has simply operated with the blind obstinancy typical of government bureaucrats, banning six genera of mongoose with no legal or scientific basis.
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Re: Do meerkats *really* make terrible pets?

Postby Ash » Wed May 20, 2015 7:09 pm

Well, we have definitely seen FWS abusing their power lately with the Lacey Act. So it doesn't surprise me that they had no reasonable explanation to provide.
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