Written by: Ashley Hironimus, Zookeeper
At the Houston Zoo, we are dedicated to the care and welfare of our more than 6,000 animals, from two-ton elephants to two-pound meerkats. In May, one such tiny resident needed some extra love and attention.
On the afternoon of May 7 keepers at Carruth Natural Encounters noticed that Smoots, a meerkat, was limping while in his outside habitat. The team sprang to action, and quickly brought the 2.16-pound carnivore to the zoo’s on-site veterinary clinic and sedated him for x-rays to see if they could find the problem. The veterinary team discovered two clean breaks in his arm, likely from normal wrestling with his “mob” of fellow meerkats.
Smoots’ front left leg was wrapped in a splint by a veterinarian to keep the leg stable and a few days later, he was transported to Gulf Coast Veterinary Clinic to have a plate and screws put in his arm to stabilize and fix the bones. Surgery went well and for the next week he was housed in a large crate near the rest of the meerkats in their holding area. We worked to make him as comfortable as possible so he always had a nest of blankets to lay in, medication for pain control, and his group nearby to comfort him through the crate door. It was important for Smoots to have physical contact with the group through the crate door or they might see him as an ‘outsider’ and be attacked once he was fully reunited with them. While in recovery, he got sedated every other day for bandage changes and to check progress to see if his arm was healing well. Unfortunately, it was not. His surgery site was starting to abscess and even though the zoo’s vets did everything they could to treat the infection with antibiotics, the abscess was not healing.
At this point, the vets thought Smoots’ quality of life would be better if the arm was amputated so he could go back with the group. His amputation day was May 18 and Dr. Maryanne Tocidlowski did the surgery here at the zoo. Everything went well and the healing process was a lot quicker than anyone expected! On May 30, under the watchful eye of his keepers, Smoots went back into the meerkat yard with a few pals. He was instantly running around (the best he could) and greeting his fellow family with body checks and face rubs – which are all excellent signs.
Smoots has always been a dominant and rambunctious meerkat, and even with three legs he still runs around, climbs, and sometimes pushes around the other meerkats. He also found his new favorite blanket (which the keepers call his ‘binky’), that he sometimes drags around the yard with his mouth so he can find his perfect spot. It’s hard to notice sometimes that he has three legs because he really CAN do anything that all the other meerkats can do!
Meerkats belong to the mongoose family and are also known as slender-tailed mongooses. These animals have a tolerance for venom, which is why they can eat scorpions and venomous snakes! These animals are native to Angola, Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia. Here at the Houston Zoo, you can find our mob outside Carruth Natural Encounters.