It starts out the usual way; you’re bored out of your mind and so you go channel surfing. That’s how I found The Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet and The Dog Whisperer on National Geographic. At first, Meerkat Manor was just one of those shows I would flip to when commercials were on whatever else I was watching and then, without realizing it, I got hooked.
I think what’s refreshing about this show is that it’s absolutely real, unvarnished, and unstaged. There are no humans (except for unseen narrator Sean "Rudy" Astin), no human interference or contact and no script. By using dozens of automated cameras, including fiber-optic ones in the underground dens, Cambridge University has been able to follow the lives of a “mob” of meerkats for over ten years. Animal Planet has managed to present the drama/comedy of the lives of this mob of about forty critters called "the Whiskers" clan and keep it equally as genuine as it is entertaining.
Not an easy feat on TV these days.
A meerkat is a member of the mongoose family and stands only about twelve inches tall and weighs maybe two pounds - if that. They set up a territory with several well-placed underground burrows where they sleep and raise their young, wandering from den to den as the mood or necessity strikes them.
A mob is ruled by a dominant female, much like in a beehive, but a meerkat female is a true hands-on leader, guiding foraging expeditions and personally fronting fights to keep control of her ground from rival mobs.
In this case, the leader is a tough woman named Flower, who despite her name, rules her domain with an iron hand. The dominant female is the only one allowed to mate and produce pups. That doesn’t mean her husband Zaphod is exactly a wimp. As on a chessboard, the queen has all the power, but the king, in the end, is just as important to the outcome. A tracking collar around Flower’s neck monitors her movements in the game.
I will warn you, though, that as ridiculous as this sounds to those who haven’t seen this program yet, their story is incredibly addictive. Because of the way they stand up while on guard and look around, it’s nearly impossible not to give them human emotions. Meerkats have a fascinating society where all the members look out for each other. They fight, they love, they nurture, and their story is nakedly presented, with all the sex, violence, deaths, births, and conflicts presented for us to see.