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Ferocious deadly family of meerkats euthanized after 9yr old climbs ropes, fake rocks and plexiglass at a zoo to stick her hand in

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Zoo meerkats test negative for rabies

Five of the popular animals euthanized after girl, 9, is bitten


Pioneer Press

Public condolences poured into the Minnesota Zoo on Friday, as zoo visitors and staff mourned the deaths of an entire meerkat family.

Kids raced to the outdoor exhibit in Apple Valley and plastered their hands against the glass, only to find nothing inside. A small boy in a stroller wailed as his mother told him the creatures were away on vacation.

"This is a hard day. This was frustrating, sad and totally avoidable," said Tony Fisher, zoo collections manager. "People need to respect the barriers we put up to keep the public back. Instead, they try to climb over them, under them and around them."

The five meerkats were euthanized Thursday, a day after a 9-year-old girl reached her hand into the exhibit and was bitten.

The meerkats — two adults and their three babies born in spring — were vaccinated for rabies, but state health protocol required that they be killed and tested because the girl's parents didn't want her to undergo a series of six painful rabies shots.

The meerkats did not have rabies, tests done at the Minnesota Board of Animal Health showed Friday.

"Although we knew there was just a minute chance they had rabies, we had no choice in this," Fisher said. "Of course, the public's safety comes first."

Well-wishers called the zoo all day, and the zoo's e-mail inboxes were filled to capacity with mostly sympathetic words, spokeswoman Kelly Lessard said.

The meerkats' deaths marks the first time an animal bit a guest and was put down at the zoo, Fisher said. Zookeepers have been bitten before, but always underwent the rabies shots.

Meerkats have been on display at the zoo since 2001 and are one of its more popular attractions. The animals, made famous in Disney's "The Lion King" movie, are 12-inch tall members of the mongoose family. They live in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, dwelling in elaborate underground tunnel systems.

"They are active, curious creatures. They live as a family unit," Fisher said.

Although not typically aggressive, they bite if they feel threatened. Keepers use gloves when handling them.

"We display exotic, dangerous species here at the zoo," Fisher said. "That's the business we are in."

Mary Wahl of New Brighton and her multitude of daycare charges headed straight for the meerkat exhibit Friday afternoon, only to find it barren.

"It's really too bad," Wahl said. "We love seeing them every year. They are so little and active."

She said the outdoor exhibit looked perfectly safe. "Parents need to watch their kids better," Wahl said. "And a 9-year-old really should know better."

But Eden Prairie mom Liz Schewe said she wasn't surprised the exhibit's barriers were bridged. She called herself an "overprotective mom" but said she has wondered about the exhibit's safety.

"It's definitely given me pause in the past," Schewe said. "My 4-year-old is a monkey, and he could probably climb right over."

The girl had to work to get her hand inside the enclosure. Zoo officials said she must have crawled over a driftwood barrier, climbed up more than 3 feet of artificial rock and reached over 4 feet of Plexiglas to get her arm into the exhibit.

Because meerkats stand just a foot tall on their hind legs, she had to have dangled her hand low for an animal to bite her finger, they said.

"The barriers seemed fairly obvious to us and we've gone five years where nothing happened," zoo communications director Sue Gergen said. "But kids are braver and the animals are cute."

The exhibit will be closed for at least a week, while additional barrier measures are added. Zoo staff was already working on the modifications Friday.

A second group of four male meerkats will be moved from an adjacent indoor exhibit to the outdoor one when the adjustments are complete.

The zoo hopes to bring in a female next year to restart the breeding process.

"We'll be starting over to get a new family group," Fisher said.



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That is pathetic.... all because the little girl didn't want 6 shots? <_< If anything, the parents should be fined for not keeping restraint of their own kids.

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The girl should have gotten the 6 shots...and the parents should have received 6 complimentary swift kicks in the ass.

I have said it before and I will say it again...BG, when you are right, YOU are RIGHT ! ! ! :thumbsup:

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Neil Boortz was having a field day with this one on talk radio in Atlanta as I was driving down to Auburn yesterday.

Whatever happened to personal accountability?

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