The Voice of Fellow Earthlings' Wildlife Center
Greetings from Fellow Earthlings’ Wildlife Center! 2008 proved to be an unusually busy year and we have many wonderful things to share with you. We realize there has been a long delay between our newsletters (as indicated by the thoughtful inquiries from our adoptive parents.) Assistant Director, Denise Robertson, who “champions” our newsletters, was contracted by The Coca-Cola Company to coordinate their Olympic Sponsorship program for the 2008 Beijing games, which meant she spent a good deal of the year traveling. Denise has now returned from China, grateful to be out of Beijing and back in the dirt with the meerkats.
We are happy to report that all the meerkats are healthy, thriving, and as endearing as ever!
Fifteen year old Suri enjoys daily “wrestling” matches with his roommate Remi (and, he almost always wins!) Remi is as “talkative” as ever, chattering non-stop, while she forages for mealworms we hide in the nooks and crannies of the enclosure. In the adjacent enclosure, Kendi and Rafiki are our very own version of the “Odd Couple.” One week Kendi is in charge, ordering Rafiki around while they remodel and tidy up their burrows. The next week the roles are reversed and it is Rafiki who chases and bosses Kendi. They seem to enjoy keeping we humans baffled as they pass the “alpha meerkat” baton back and forth. But, no matter who is in charge, it is obvious by their cuddling sessions that they simply adore one another.
Bara, Jengo and Nalo are the ever congenial trio. “The two boys” practice their fierce “war dance” and patrol their territory vigorously. But they follow Bara’s lead, as she is the matriarch and rules with authority. Bara takes her sentry duty seriously as she climbs to the elevated platform and scans the horizon for any hint of danger. Every evening all three snuggle and groom each other before Bara decides it’s time for everyone to retire to their cozy den box.
Each one of the “Magnificent Seven” continues to delight us with their antics and vivid personalities. They remind us how important it is to enjoy the simple pleasures ~ the warmth of the morning sun on your face, the afternoon breeze that whispers in your ear, the lovely pink sunset that wraps the world in a magical light. Each afternoon, we pause from our chores and join the meerkats in their ritual of bidding adieu to the sun as it settles behind the mountains. In the stillness, after the light slips away, we are grateful for the beauty that surrounds us and the wondrous little creatures that grace our lives and teach us about what really matters.
We recently lost a rare person who, like a special gift, arrived unexpectedly in our lives. We needed an exceptional builder and our Operations Manager, Lin Snyder, volunteered her husband Bob by saying, “Oh, he can do anything.” We discovered that was an understatement!
From enclosure platforms, hinged Plexiglas panels designed to protect the meerkats from cold winter winds, to every imaginable repair, Bob completed each project quickly and flawlessly.
His confidence and efficiency gave us complete trust. And, there was a peacefulness about him that contributed enormously to the ambiance of the Center. The meerkats loved him, too. Even when Bob was working in their enclosures, they seemed to sense that he was making their homes a better place.
Bob built our “ultimate den boxes” which were designed by Assistant Director, Denise Robertson. Just one week after Denise gave him the construction plans, Bob returned with dens that were functional, safe, comfortable, and so deftly crafted that they were true works of art. Each enclosure now has one of these custom den boxes and the meerkats are enjoying the spacious interiors, cross ventilation vents, detachable foyers, and removable, insulated ceiling panels which seal in the warmth emitted from heat pads on chilly winter nights.
Every time we discussed difficult and challenging new projects for the Center, Bob listened patiently and then said, “That’s not a problem, I can do that.” He never failed to keep the promise of those simple words.
Bob leaves behind a lasting legacy. He was well loved by his wife Lin, children Emily and Eric, and the people he touched as he journeyed through life with integrity, humor, and compassion. His gentle spirit shines brightly, reflected in the meticulous craftsmanship of everything he built at the Center. Bob is remembered with love and terribly, terribly missed.
As Meerkat Manor moved into its fourth season, Director Pam Bennett-Wallberg continued her partnership with Animal Planet as spokesperson for the series. Here’s an update of all the “happenings.”
April 25th – Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. This “prequel” movie to the series told the story of Flower, matriarch of the Whiskers Mob, and was narrated by Whoopi Goldberg (one of our adoptive parents!) From Flower’s birth during a sandstorm in 2000, to her rise as alpha female, the film gave a fascinating glimpse into her extraordinary life.
June 10th – ABC’s Nightline visited the Center. Additionally, the ABC crew was joined by Animal Planet’s Executive Producer, Mick Kaczorowski, and Vice President of Communications, Patricia Kollappallil. Nightline filmed an interview with Mick and Pam on the phenomenon that Meerkat Manor has become and how the tiny, tenacious meerkats have captured the hearts of people around the world. Nightline correspondent, John Donvan, had his own “close encounter” with the meerkats as he interviewed Pam. As usual, Pam was the consummate professional on camera as she gracefully “wrangled” meerkats and answered John’s many questions ad lib. John calmly responded even when Kendi and Rafiki did a “Tasmanian Devil” imitation in his lap as they fought over mealworms! It was an interesting, enjoyable day for all but, not surprisingly, the sassy meerkats stole the show with their antics.
June 15th – Good Morning America and ABC World News with Charles Gibson: Segments of the Nightline piece were highlighted on these programs. Many of our adoptive parents from around the country let us know after seeing the segments.
June 19th – Meerkat Manor narrator, Stockard Channing, visited the Center and had her first “nose to nose” encounter with meerkats! Stockard, who replaced Sean Astin as the new narrator for the series, had previously appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to promote Meerkat Manor and she mentioned her upcoming visit to Fellow Earthlings’. After narrating season four, she decided it was time to meet our meerkats! She enjoyed an entertaining interaction with the animals and we shared some lively conversation about the series.
September – Meerkat Manor was nominated for an Emmy in the category of cinematography.
A Royal Visit!
In July, Fellow Earthlings’ was honored to host Princess Marie Christine of Belgium. Her warm personality and calm demeanor instantly put the meerkats at ease. As the Princess sat in the dirt with the meerkats, she delighted Pam with stories about growing up in a castle. We look forward to many return visits from our royal meerkat-lover.
Television Commercials and Billboards for Telus Communications
Over the years we have had the unique opportunity of working on many films, television programs, and commercials for prestigious organizations such as Disney Studios, Animal Planet, National Geographic, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, and ABC World News. However, none of these projects were as complex as the one we did for Telus Communications (Canada) and filmed by Sugino Studios headquartered in Toronto.
Shin Sugino, the artistic genius and founder of Sugino Studios, flew to California in May to see our meerkats. After Pam toured Shin around the Center and introduced him to the meerkats, he said our animals looked like Kalahari meerkats ~ fit, lean, and alert. So, once again, our meerkats got starring roles.
On an early June morning we watched, with utter astonishment, as the equipment for the shoot arrived: 70 foot long production trailers that were maneuvered into place by skilled drivers who carefully avoided contact with almost every tree and fence, generators the size of Volkswagens, shade tents, catering trucks, port-a-potties, craft service trailers, prop department trucks, mammoth cameras, booms, banks of computers and monitors, gigantic lights, fans, and a lively crew of 50 people from Canada and Los Angeles.
Each day of the shoot started early. The catering trucks and staff arrived at 5:00 a.m. to prepare breakfast. The film crew arrived at 6:00 to eat, set up for the day, and then twiddle their collective thumbs until the meerkats emerged from their cozy dens at 8:00. That was followed by a leisurely breakfast for the “stars.” Then, and only then, were the meerkats ready to make their stellar appearance.
Waiting for meerkats!
Photo Credit: Lin Snyder
The June weather was perfect for the meerkats, but “not so much” for the crew from Canada. The event planner made heroic efforts to make the crew comfortable in the heat. She provided tubs of iced drinks, popsicles, iced kerchiefs for their necks, portable fans, shade tents, and spray bottles full of ice water. We politely refused her request to bring in a huge “above ground” pool for fear of depleting our well.
Pam and Operations Manager Lin Snyder, reviewed the story boards for the project to make sure the meerkats would be safe, comfortable, and happy. Every detail of the shoot was scrutinized and then approved. The crew was patient with Pam’s requests to secure the fans out of the animals’ reach, to safely place the equipment to protect the animals, and to limit the number of crewmembers in the enclosure during the filming.
Before the filming began Pam asked the crew if they knew about a game called “Mother May I?” When they laughed and answered affirmatively, she smiled and explained that to protect the meerkats during filming, no one could move before asking “Mother May I?” This simple concept worked beautifully to the delight of the crew and the protection of the meerkats.
The production assistant for the shoot told Pam that the doors to the enclosures could not be locked during the filming in order to meet Fire Code requirements. After a short stalemate, Pam requested that a “door monitor” be posted at each enclosure to open and close the door only after being given the “okay.” The system worked brilliantly.
In true star fashion, the meerkats did anything they wanted to do: They jumped over cables, put nose prints on cameras, buried battery packs with mounds of sand, sunned, lounged, and foraged for treats. On the other hand, Pam, Lin, and the crew had to be ingenious to get the meerkats to look up at a small Christmas tree without always tipping it over, to stay in one spot long enough to get a perfect profile shot, or to get any of the other required shots. The crew and Pam walked around the enclosure hunched over like Quasimodo under the low “meerkat height” cameras and lights. And, they had to sit on the ground and then stand up so frequently that their thigh muscles ached for days. The meerkats played. The humans WORKED!
At the end of the week-long shoot the meerkats were so comfortable with the crew that it proved to be problematic on the last day. Everyone was thrilled when we got all the shots needed and the production assistant shouted “It’s a wrap!” Now, it was time for the crew to “strike the set” and remove the equipment from the enclosure. To protect the meerkats we always shifted them in and out of the enclosure when any equipment was added or removed. Up until the last day of the shoot, the meerkats always shifted immediately. But now, when the crew had massive amounts of equipment to pack and flights to catch, Bara, Jengo, and Nalo sat half out of their burrows, watched the crew with fondness, and simply refused to shift for any treat that was offered. It was as if they were saying, “No thanks, we’d rather be here with these very interesting people than to shift out of the enclosure for a treat.”
And, so the meerkats stayed and stayed and stayed. After an hour, the crew members began to nervously check their watches and wonder out loud if they’d miss their flights. Amazingly, a trio of “Fuzz Balls” had completely shut down an international film crew. Pam sat in the enclosure with the three troublemakers and each time a meerkat moved out of a burrow she placed a heavy camera weight bag over the entrance. Then, she placed a line of apple boxes (a term for boxes used to elevate the photographic equipment) across the width of the enclosure to be a “sight barrier” for the meerkats. Finally, she and the production assistant gently coaxed the reluctant meerkats to shift out of the enclosure by slowly waving their arms and directing the troublesome trio into the shift tunnel ~~ an activity that took another 20 minutes in the stifling afternoon heat. After the meerkats were safely shifted, the production assistant wiped the sweat out of his eyes and said, “Now, I know what they mean by 'herding cats.'”
We’re happy to report that all crew members caught their flights ~ but just by a whisker. Although the commercials and billboards featuring our little stars are only in Canada, you can see several of the commercials on the website www.YOUTUBE. In the search box type these two words: MEERKATS TELUS
Staying Positive in Difficult Times
As the gloomy economy continues to impact everyone, we remain unwavering in our commitment to provide the highest level of care for our wee rascals.
Bugs are just one of the many necessary components required for our resident meerkats. All our “bugs” are custom ordered from a reputable distributor who drives two hours to deliver the precious cargo right to our gates. Knowing how vitally important a good diet is to the lives of our animals, there is simply no compromising on this critical aspect of their care. Heat pads and lamps, vet bills, winter fleece blankets, utility bills, licenses, facility repairs and improvements, and (of course!) toys are just a few of the many monthly expenses we incur to keep the Center and the meerkats thriving.
Our deep gratitude goes out to all of our adoptive parents who continue their legacy by renewing their “mob” membership yearly and for those who donate. Your generous and consistent support has been the cornerstone and foundation of Fellow Earthlings’.
Even if you are not able to visit the Center, your yearly re-adoption membership donation is vitally needed to maintain the high standard of care we began in 1989, ensuring we are able to provide the meerkats with safe, happy, and healthy lives.
We abstain from flashy advertising and impersonal campaigning for funds. We prefer to rely on our reputation and “word of mouth” endorsements from our adoptive parents to keep donations coming in. We view each of you as cherished members of our “mob” and part of our extended family. Thus, we have not raised our adoption/membership donation, nor have we compromised the serenity of the Center by opening it to large groups. The intimate, exclusive nature of a visit with the meerkats at Fellow Earthlings’ is something we want you to joyfully share with family and friends – not with a busload of strangers.
So, we will continue in our simple way, with faith our loyal donors will provide the vital support needed to care for our precious residents. Challenging times lie ahead but, standing together as family, we will weather the storm and look to the horizon where a bright and beautiful sunrise awaits.
The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that truly works is the family”
Focus on Rafiki
Rafiki is a rascal! His tenacity and courage are legendary, his loyalty to his partner, Kendi, heroic. At 9 years of age, he is still a “pup” in so many ways and keeps everyone laughing with his dramatic flair and zest for life. With just one glance from his expressive and impish eyes, he will highjack your heart. The best way to give you a glimpse into Rafiki’s world is to share his own “cheeky” philosophy of life.
Life According to Rafiki
Share the sunshine, but make certain to claim the best spot for yourself
Sit on your partner’s head whenever you want to control the situation
Attack the rake with great vigor every time it invades your space
After finishing your meal, sneak up on your partner for a quick “morsel snatch” while she is diligently chewing her insects 100 times
Construct new burrows in strategic locations so your caretakers will unwittingly trip into them for your fun and enjoyment
Closely monitor the “mob” next door and take every opportunity to display your dazzling war dance
Exhibit joyful anticipation at meal times by jumping up and down on your hind legs, barking an alert to the other meerkats, “It’s coming! It’s coming!”
Look at the sky and remain hopeful it “just might” rain meal worms when you least expect it
Give “the maid” your best “stink eye” as she changes the den box blankets that you spent days getting nice and smelly.
Before retiring, check under your basket on “bug delivery” days for cringing crickets
“Mark” your roommate daily – because it’s important to wear the same perfume
Assume every human entering your enclosure is there for the sole purpose of feeding you treats and admiring your beauty
Remember that snuggling with your partner, after eating a belly full of bugs, is “paws down” the best way to spend a lazy afternoon.
As we conclude this addition of Paw Prints, winter has settled over our magnificent desert. We have completed our winter preparations ~ stacking firewood, checking heat pads, heat lamps, and placing warm fleece blankets in the den boxes. We are closed to visitors from December through February which are the coldest months in Morongo Valley. Although the seasons are reversed, the climate in our area is identical to the meerkats’ native Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. (We don’t give calendars to the meerkats so they are none the wiser!) As the meerkats enjoy basking under the heat lamps, we complete big projects we don’t have time to do from March – November when we host our adoptive parents.
Other than being closed to visitors, everything else is “business as usual,” including processing adoptions, donations, merchandise orders, and scheduling future visits.
We send you heartfelt wishes for a year full of love, laughter, and precious time spent with those you hold dear. We, in turn, will continue the work we love surrounded by the most endearing animals on the planet. Our ongoing mission is to provide the highest quality care (including loads of love!) to ensure the meerkats have a happy, enriching, and satisfying life. In return, these engaging animals bestow deep and bountiful joy upon us. Those little seeds of joy sprout in our hearts and, when shared with others, are carried into the world ~ a net of joy cast out, catching souls and enriching the world in countless ways. Small creatures doing big things.
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart”