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Page last updated at 09:52 GMT, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 10:52 UK
Meerkat adverts lead to surge in unwanted pets
Infant meerkat on its tummy
Infant meerkats like this one are currently selling for 400 each

They are cute, they have Russian accents and they have led to a surge in unwanted pets.

The Exotic Pet Refuge in Deeping St James has seen an increase in dumped meerkats as people purchase the animals, inspired by TV advertisements.

Pam Mansfield from the refuge has this message for people who think they might make good pets: "Don't bother. Go for something you can interact with."

The animals are not suitable for indoor living as they are really quite smelly.

"It's a ferrety-type smell," Pam explained. "Not as bad as a ferret but when they go to the toilet it is horrible.

"How anyone can keep them in the house, I don't know"

Yet they are not suited to living outdoors in cages by themselves as they are used to living in large groups and need lots of company.

Aggressive instincts

Two meerkats looking around
TV programmes about meerkats have increased their popularity as pets

Anyone who has watched TV programmes about meerkats in the wild knows how fierce the animals can be. This is another factor which makes them unsuitable as pets.

Sometimes they are aggressive with people they do not know and they can be pretty unpleasant to each other.

Pam currently has three abandoned meerkats at her shelter. Two are living happily together but they are refusing to accept the third.

"We've been trying for about two months now to introduce one meerkat to the other two, who've been together for quite some time," she said. "We're still not succeeding after a couple of months side-by-side. I still wouldn't trust them together.

"And it might be that they never go together."

Meerkat habitat

Meerkats are small mammals and members of the mongoose family. They live in all parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and South Africa.

A group of meerkats is called a mob, gang or clan. A meerkat clan often contains about 20 meerkats, but some super-families have 50 or more members.

They are very social and like to reinforce their bonds by regularly grooming other gang members.

Big money

Meerkat looking around
Not such a cute pet. Experts warn meerkats are not easily domesticated

Meerkats sold as pets in England are bred here. Pam said the price has gone up along with the popularity of the animals.

"Before the advert they were selling for £200 each. Since the advert they've gone up to about £400.

"There's lots of people who've got pairs and they breed and of course they have about six babies at a time.

"You get people who want the money and breed them for the money."

Home for life

The meerkats rescued by Pam will stay at the Exotic Pet Refuge. Her policy is to free native animals back into the wild, if possible, while other animals have a guaranteed home for the rest of their lives.

She set up the refuge in 1985 and currently cares for 400 animals ranging from monkeys to a lynx.

It costs her £45,000 a year to run the centre and it is entirely funded from donations and via its six open days a year.

In the meantime, Pam is keen to ensure that no more meerkats arrive.

She hopes people will realise the cute-looking animals do not have a place in the average British home.

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