There's life and death drama on Meerkat Mountain, where babies are imminent. Kate Humble bravely goes down to Wolf Wood to pick food for the tortoises.
Browse content similar to Episode 5. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
The meerkats are some of the most popular animals here at Longleat
but following their story has been a heart-breaking experience.
There have been many glorious births,
but tragically many deaths here at Meerkat Mountain.
Everyone has their fingers crossed as their journey continues today.
Coming up - we go foraging
for probably the most dangerous tortoise food in the world.
The bats get in a flap during a fruit-feeding frenzy.
And the new watering-hole is almost ready, but after all the hard work,
will the animals actually like it?
But first, Meerkat Mountain
is one of the most dangerous places in the park.
The collective name for a gang of meerkats is a mob,
which is appropriate after all of the violence and tragedy
that's happened here in recent times.
-Darren Beasley is the keeper in charge.
His mission has always been to get them to breed.
But, before that could ever happen,
the mob had to become a settled and stable family group.
We've been trying to get the meerkat balance down here right.
It's been a real trial for all of the keepers.
We brought in some new blood, we brought some from two collections.
Some girls and a single boy, a breeding male.
It was a nightmare. There was fighting, there was squabbling.
In the end, sadly, there was a murder, there was a fatality.
They fought so bad that they killed each other.
Meerkats come from the barren deserts of southern Africa,
a landscape so harsh the only rule is kill or be killed.
But after that murder, the mob did settle down.
An alpha male and female emerged as leaders
and finally they began to breed.
Three pups from their first litter have survived
and are now four months old.
It's taken years and tears and heartache,
but we're there. Long may it reign.
Once there's an established alpha couple, there's no reason
why they shouldn't just keep breeding.
But at Meerkat Mountain, it seems that tragedy is never far away.
When the next litter came, there were two pups, but one soon died.
And the other was abandoned by her parents.
So keeper John Reynolds took on the labour-intensive
and emotionally charged task of hand rearing.
He looked after the baby for five weeks
and then the time came to try to reintegrate her into the mob.
I think she is ready to go back in with them now.
She's old enough now, she's strong enough. She's healthy enough.
She really needs to be back with her own kind. It's good for her.
I can only teach her so much. I can't teach her to dig in the ground
or stand up on her legs. I can't teach her how to be a meerkat.
Don't need that any more.
This is the moment of truth.
Will the mob accept the baby back or kill her as an intruder?
So far, this is looking good.
I'm absolutely thrilled. It's gone better than I could have imagined.
They've taken to her like she was never gone.
It really is absolutely incredible.
But sadly this early success was short-lived.
Nobody knows why or how it happened, but a few days later,
John's little baby was found dead.
But this wasn't the last drama on Meerkat Mountain
because the alpha female is pregnant again and we'll be back soon
to see what happens when the next litter of pups comes along.
The East Africa Reserve is a great place
to see some of Africa's most incredible animals.
The animals are free to roam and all exhibit natural
herd behaviour, just as they would at home on the African plains.
But one thing you can't get away from
is that these animals live in Wiltshire.
If you were looking for herd animals in Africa,
a good place to start is around a water hole, like this one.
And it was while on a trip to Kenya that head of section Andy Hayton
had the idea of bringing an extra slice of Africa to the West Country
by building a water hole of his own.
Facing typically British weather, construction commenced.
And it wasn't entirely straightforward.
But the water hole did finally get completed,
and now, with the sun shining, I've come up to meet Andy
and hopefully get a look at the animals.
It is a glorious sunny day here at Longleat
and I'm in the East Africa Reserve with head of section Andy Hayton,
and looking at your brand new water hole, Andy,
which is clearly a triumph.
The best garden pond ever, isn't it?
It really is, it's just fantastic. The animals seem to like it.
It's worked really well.
We've turned all their water drinkers off now.
They actually use this as their watering hole as we envisaged it.
And this is about as natural an environment
-as you could give them presumably?
They don't spend all their time here, but some lucky visitors
will get a real good show when the giraffe come.
They normally come up at midday-ish. And you get giraffe here drinking
and zebra and ostriches.
It's working exactly how we wanted it to work.
It's such a good show when they're all down here.
Absolutely. And presumably, that is the great draw of water holes
-in the wild, it's a great place to see wild animals.
I mean, all the real classic lodges in Africa are by a water hole
cos that's where the animals must come cos they've got to drink.
We're just trying to replicate it as much as we can.
We've got a little bit of a stampede going on there! Exciting.
I love the way they move.
Fantastic. You don't see this in many other collections.
We've got so much space that the giraffe can run at a full sprint.
That is just a fantastic sight.
Absolutely wonderful. But they've now abandoned the water hole.
I wonder whether there is that instinct,
because watering holes are great for predators, aren't they?
Yeah, everybody gravitates to them, cos the predators know
that the other animals are gonna come there, so...
They were quite nervous when we first started using it.
They were a little bit, is there a lion hiding behind that tree?
Absolutely. It was good, and it looks so nice, when you have giraffe there!
Thanks, guys! It really makes it feel
like a little slice of East Africa.
It's nice. It really is good.
Congratulations. I know it's been a hard slog to get it done.
But it really does look lovely.
I look forward to seeing crowds of animals around it
-when they haven't all stampeded off!
-When they come back.
Back at Meerkat Mountain, keeper Darren Beasley
has just made a rather exciting discovery.
SQUEAKING Can you hear the noise?
One, two, three, four, five.
Five brand new babies.
And mum's been brilliant. She's been nursing them.
They've had their colostrums, their first milk.
Hopefully this is gonna boost our numbers again and it'll be a happy little meerkat mob.
That's what we want. We'll leave them in peace now.
In the wild, it would be very unusual for all five to survive.
We always have this problem with any baby animal.
We get all excited on day one.
But it's just the beginning of mum and dad's real hard work,
so if they get it right like we know these guys can now,
is that the older brothers and sisters will help out.
Nice warm weather, they'll be out
and like little teddy-bear miniature meerkats soon.
Touch wood, it's only the first few hours they've been born,
but it's looking excellent. Ten out of ten.
But Darren knows only too well when there's good news
on Meerkat Mountain, bad news is often not far behind.
Inside the old stable block,
there are animals that some people regard as quite scary...
But as Ben's gone to find out,
bats aren't bad at all, just misunderstood.
I'm in the bat cave with keeper Alexa Fairburn.
Alexa, it's breakfast time, is that right?
Yes. They're very hungry.
So how on earth do we go about feeding bats?
These are fruit bats, so they get a variety of different types of fruit.
Apples, oranges, bananas, melon, mango, strawberries,
anything we can get our hands on they eat.
Figs, they really like.
-Where do we do this preparation?
-We've food preparation through here.
-We've got a little treat for them today.
-It's different enrichment feeding device for them.
-OK. Very good.
Which we'll be trying it out.
-And this is where we become chefs, is that right?
-It's just fruit that they live off?
-Yeah, it's with us.
In the wild, they would eat bugs and things like that, little plants.
But in here they don't bother.
-It looks pretty finely chopped to me?
We try to chop it quite finely otherwise they do tend to drop it.
So we need it finely chopped or they'll drop it on visitors' heads.
I'll show you my chopping technique.
And today they'll have an extra special treat?
-What's the plan?
We've got a nice enrichment device we're going to put the food into.
Hopefully, we'll see flight muscles working, their chest muscles.
We'll be able to see them clambering around.
-They would naturally squabble a bit for their dinner.
-What do you think of my chopping?
-Very good. We'll add that.
Alexa, we've got our finely cut fruit. What now?
We put it in our nice new enrichment device for them.
-Can I step over here?
-Of course you can.
-How does it work?
Just pour some of the fruit in, and then hopefully
the bats will come in using the holes and their flight muscles
and hopefully they'll come and have a nice old feed.
OK. So presumably, we take a step back and let the bats come in?
-To see the bats more clearly,
we've rigged up a night-vision camera over the feeding basket.
Now first thing is, how on earth do the bats know the food is there?
They've got an absolutely amazing sense of smell
so they smelt it the second we walked in.
They use echo location as well,
which is basically a series of clicks they use with their tongue.
That tells them where objects are so they can avoid them.
Alexa, we've got the first bat.
What's it doing now?
He's just smelling it now. It's got all different human smells on it.
He's just checking it out. He'll be able to smell all nice tasty fruit.
He'll go up and tell the others it's there now.
Is that how they work?
Yeah, normally one of them starts feeding
and it sets all the others off.
-Will there potentially be a feeding frenzy in there?
OK, so we've got a couple in there now - it looks like three?
Three or four.
You can see they're using all of their wings and everything like that.
They'll get right on in here and find their nice bits of favourite food.
They're prettying agile, being able to crawl out of those holes.
They've got really strong flight muscles and chest muscles.
You can almost see their claws.
They've got little hooks on the end of their wing called a thumb.
So how do they actually grab the food?
With their teeth or with their little hooks?
They'll use their teeth. With the finely chopped
stuff like that, they'll stuff it all in their mouth and fly off.
Are they quite greedy, do they have quite an appetite?
They do, yeah. They can eat 70% of their body weight every day.
-They really do eat an awful lot.
It can be. Between 50% and 70%, yeah.
That's a lot of fruit cutting!
-It is a lot, yes!
-They're all clambering out everywhere.
This what it's all about, is it, to give them something new?
Yeah, in the wild, they'd be foraging and feeding all of the time,
finding new roost sites all the time.
Obviously in here it's a controlled environment,
so we like to give them loads of enrichment ideas,
and different feeding techniques.
For you, presumably doing a different feeding technique like
this gives you a totally new insight into the bats' behaviour?
You can see how much they move,
how much their chest muscles do a lot of the work for them
when they're using their wings and everything like that.
It's brilliant to see them moving around using themselves more agilely.
So this is not only breakfast but a bat workout?
-Alexa, thank you very much.
We'll leave the bats to their exercise.
I am out in Wolf Wood, and I mean OUT in Wolf Wood,
with Deputy Head Warden Ian Turner.
Ian, this seems very, very unwise.
Usually we stay in the feed truck,
but we're just here with our Land Rover. Why?
-We need tortoise food.
-This is tortoise food.
-Plantain, which we need to get.
We haven't been able to do this
for the last three or four weeks because of the wolf pups.
The parents have got slightly better now and they're letting us do this.
When you say a little bit better, what were they like before?
You couldn't get on the grass. They would be over here now.
They're beginning in a slightly nerve-wracking way
-to move around us!
-In a sort of pincer movement.
I'm just looking over there. So we'd better pick this fast.
Why is this good for tortoises?
And surely it grows somewhere else in the park?
It does. But cos we haven't been able to do this
for four weeks, I've been depleting the stocks elsewhere.
Now the wolves have quietened down, the ideal time to grab it.
What's so good about it for tortoises?
It's got all of the vitamins they need, perfect tortoise food.
We need to get this whole sack full?
-Blimey, that's quite a lot.
-I'll pick. You keep an eye on the wolves.
-Go for the big stuff.
-The big ones. OK.
-Bigger is better.
So, I mean, presumably the wolves as you say are a bit more
-relaxed now because the cubs are a little bit bigger?
-A bit bigger.
-They're not worried about us doing anything to them.
He says, with his fingers crossed!
Now these are Canadian timber wolves. What would their prey be?
They'd look for rabbits and stuff like that in the wild.
They'd look out for moose.
So if you have a sick moose they'd follow it for 30 miles
until it collapses and then they'll be on it.
We've got a pretty good amount there.
-How many tortoises have we got to feed?
-Lots. We need more.
-Bring the sack over here.
OK. So, is this a special treat for tortoises
or something that you try and give them as often as possible?
-We pick dandylions, which are more or less going out of season now.
And plantain as I say is a big one.
We don't want to take too much cos we can get more another day.
-So that's a good sackful. All right?
-OK. We're gonna run back in.
So, mission successfully accomplished.
Now all we've got to do is go and feed the tortoises. Join us later.
At Meerkat Mountain, the five new babies are now six weeks old.
And it's a very special day for them and their keeper, John Reynolds.
It's a lovely, lovely day today.
We've decided we'll let the meerkats out.
This will be the first full day they've been out.
It's very rare for them to have five.
We didn't expect all of them to survive.
We've got the results now. We've got all five still living.
And now here they come!
Meerkats don't start to get their adult markings
until they're three months old.
But they are born with those black patches around their eyes,
which make them look like little gangsters.
There's a large enclosure to be explored
and plenty of mischief to get up to.
Already their personalities are starting to show.
Some are more adventurous than others.
And, at the end of the day, they're all exhausted
and ready to go back into their house under the mountain.
Eagle-eyed John has been watching them closely
and has spotted that one has a minor injury.
They've been bounding around, playing on the mountain,
but unfortunately, one of them has hurt his eye.
It's either got caught in a stick outside, or possibly fighting,
so it's gone a bit sore. We're just going to put some medication on it -
to clear any infections but also just for our peace of mind.
Meerkats identify each other mainly by smell.
So John makes sure he gets the mob's scent on his hands
before he administers the eye drops.
Come on. Here we go.
We don't want to pick them up unless we absolutely have to.
But we're just trying to step in there before anything happens.
Are you all right?
Over the next few days, John keeps a close eye on them.
By watching their parents, the babies quickly learn
to eat bugs and fruit, the staples of a meerkat diet.
Cos there are five brothers and sisters,
there's a lot of rough and tumble at dinner time.
From a young age in the wild, the babies would fight amongst themselves
because they want more food, they want to be the strongest.
In the wild, it would be survival of the fittest.
In the barren deserts where they come from, food is very scarce.
And an extra mouthful can be the difference between life and death.
Meerkat Mountain is a much safer place to grow up
but it's not completely without hazards.
One has had a fall and is limping. Although John's concerned,
he knows it could be more dangerous to intervene.
We'll keep a close eye on it for now.
The next couple of days, monitor it and make sure it's all right.
We'll try and do it from a distance.
We don't want to go in there and pick it up every day.
It'll stress it out and stress the mum out.
We don't want that. So we'll keep an eye on it and see how it goes.
So far, the baby meerkats have only had a couple of minor injuries.
But they still have a long way to go.
We'll be back later as their difficult journey continues.
I'm back with Deputy Head Warden Ian Turner.
We're out in Pets' Corner with lots of hungry tortoises,
a sack full of plantain, which you've washed, Ian.
Why did you bother to do that?
To get the smell of wolves off it, in case they've marked it.
Oh yes, of course, because wolves do scent mark a lot, don't they?
That wouldn't be tasty for the tortoises!
That's washed now.
-So we put this out, do we into these trays?
-Into the trays.
They're probably not going to eat so much today, because it's been cold.
As well as being really good for them, is it a built of a favourite?
Yeah. It is.
This and dandelions is probably their favourite two things.
And apart from this sort of wild food you give them,
what else is in important to feed tortoises to keep them healthy?
Literally the best you can do is get the wild stuff.
By a long way.
Lettuce is not very good for them cos it's no goodness in it.
-Tomatoes is a bit of extra stuff you can do.
But literally, it's the wild stuff.
From your garden, it's all natural stuff.
You've got to get something which they'd naturally get.
I'm going to do a bit of a help here because one of my favourite
tortoises, Winky down here, so called because he's a wheel
instead of a back leg, haven't you, mate?
I'm just going to help you over and see if you would like a go
at this plantain which Ian and I picked at great peril to ourselves.
Is he impressed?
Oh, Winky, show some gratitude!
Ian, thank you very much. That was indeed an experience.
Probably the most dangerous way
to collect tortoise food there is in the world.
Just enjoy it and be grateful, you lot!
At Meerkat Mountain, the mob are in mourning.
Although all five babies survived
for two months and seemed to be doing well,
there's now been some very bad news.
A few days ago, Darren Beasley arrived to find that the baby
with the poorly eye had died in the night.
If that wasn't bad enough,
the next day he discovered another of the pups
had succumbed to a mystery ailment.
One minute, everybody's really elated and really happy
and swapping the cigars because we've got babies.
The next minute it's all very sad cos nature can be so cruel.
We've lost of a couple of babies which is really quite sad.
It's yet another blow for meerkat keeper John Reynolds.
It was a shock to begin with.
But we were absolutely devastated.
But slowly we've got used to the fact that they've gone.
We've got to get on with it and focus on the three that are still here.
John doesn't have time to dwell on these sad events
because right now they're expecting a special visitor.
Lord Bath himself has come down to meet the meerkat pups.
He's concerned to find there's now only three.
Can you be sure that it's not the parents killing them?
We don't think it's the parents killing them,
cos there'd be bite-marks and blood, things like that.
We'll keep a close eye on the rest of these ones and hope for the best.
Well now they've got this far, which is what, three months old?
Two months old now, nearly. About eight weeks.
How good are the chances they'll reach adulthood?
In another month or so, they'll be more or less self-sufficient
and hopefully they'll all survive, the rest of them.
Hello! Do they nip?
You wouldn't ever put your hand beneath and pick it up?
No. Not without gauntlets, or for a very, very good reason!
I think I'm liable to a surreptitious attack from behind!
Of course, the meerkats aren't really little gangsters and bandits,
despite the names that John's suggested for the three little ones.
It has to be The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
It's just that they look so mischievous,
and despite all the tragedies,
there's something about the mob that many people can identify with.
We can relate to them, can't we?
Cos they're a family group. Everyone looking after each other.
I could spend hours in here.
If I didn't have a real job to do and proper work,
I'd sit in for hours and watch and enjoy this.
It's nice to have things to be proud of.
I'm really proud of this.
I really am.
As the day draws to an end, the traditional rainy season
descends upon Wiltshire's Wallaby Wood.
And it's known around these parts as summer!
Well, it's a very rainy, wet, windy end of the day, but Kate and I've
come up to Wallaby Wood with a very wet head of section Andy Hayton.
Andy, the wallabies don't mind this weather too much.
They're not too bad actually, Ben.
They're really tough little animals, which is fortunate really.
There are actually wild populations of wallabies in this country.
There's some in the Peak District up in Derbyshire,
and there's some on an island in Loch Lomond.
They've actually adapted to our climate pretty well?
Really well. These guys have got their breeding cycle going
so all the babies come in spring so they get the really good weather(!)
Like this, yeah!
Now, they've obviously scattered around.
In weather like this, do they tend to take shelter?
Do they tend to sort of hide under trees or go into the house here?
Yeah. You will see a lot of that.
Plus, with this wind, you could hear yourself,
the noise of it is quite ferocious.
If you've got really good hearing like a lot of our animals,
it really tends to spook them out cos they're being buffeted around
and they can't hear possible threats and things like that.
A lot of animals get a little bit spooked in this weather.
Rhinos, they'll get tripped out if it's rainy and windy.
They don't really like it. In the years I've been here,
I've figured out it's not solely because it's wet and miserable.
Tell you what I worked out. They're quite clever cos, if we go around
the corner here, sheltered from the wind is a very clever wallaby!
That's where I want to be.
Exactly! Andy, thank you very much indeed
for bringing us up to a wet, wild Wallaby Wood.
Sadly, that's all we've got time for on today's programme.
Here's what's coming up on the next Animal Park.
The Longleat keepers head out to Africa where they join
a mercy mission to save a whole pack of ferocious killers.
The wolves in Wolf Wood have had a tough time of late.
So how are the new cubs faring now?
And it's feeding time for the tigers.
-Down the hatch.
-But they seem more interested in eating the car.
-They go for the tyres. Hey!
-So don't miss the next Animal Park.
Kate Humble and Ben Fogle look behind the scenes at Longleat Safari Park. There's life and death drama on Meerkat Mountain, where babies are imminent. Kate bravely goes down to Wolf Wood to pick food for the tortoises. Meanwhile, will the giraffes like their new waterhole?