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Norwalk Meerkats Celebrate Turning 2

NORWALK, Conn. — Oh sure, it's Uncle Sam's birthday! But did it occur to you that there are other birthdays to celebrate?

Take, for example, the six meerkats at the Maritime Aquarium . They are 2 years old — today! But they had to have their birthday "cake" Friday, when there were guests. On Independence Day, the place was deserted.

"Cake" is a bit of a misnomer. The meerkats were presented with three cardboard boxes full of crickets. Organizers were hoping the crickets would climb through holes in the sides of the boxes, but it seems the crickets were too smart for that. No, they waited for the meerkats to scratch and claw their way in before being eaten.

The boxes were gift wrapped in paper decorated by children. Nice gift, but the meerkats were challenged to open it. It took them almost a half-hour to get to the meat inside. But that was great for the birthday party guests – children who were separated by only a wall of plastic.

Christopher Dole, 7, of Hamden, and Nicole Anderson, 2, of Shelton, were among those darting into the bubble to get a look.

The meerkats are siblings – three brothers and three sisters – born at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. They came to Norwalk's aquarium in April 2010, and their new exhibit opened May 28, 2010, within the "Africa: From the Desert to the Sea" exhibit. Both exhibits will be at the aquarium through February 2012.

Meerkats are known for living in cooperative communities, but it's every meerkat for him/herself at feeding time, according to aquarium publicist Dave Sigworth. Sure enough, once the first box of crickets was open, the first meerkats dove in and stayed there. Other meerkats looked at their backsides and grabbed the crickets that escaped.

Aquarium supervisor Kerry Dobson said the meerkats are fed crickets as a snack twice a day. "We do different types of puzzle feeders or slow feeders," she said. "It's slow duration instead of all at once. And then we change it up, we scatter them throughout the exhibit, which is something different, too."

The meerkats did not comment.

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