Meerkat groups, or mobs, are run by an alpha male and female, who are the only meerkats “allowed” to breed. So what happens when subordinate females happen to sneak in a little action on the side and deliver their own litters? Alpha mom retaliates by murdering the illegitimate pups and then forcing the grieving subordinate females to either leave the colony or nurse and raise her own pups instead.
While there’s certainly an advantage to the alpha female to ensure that only her pups survive, subordinate females definitely get the raw end of the deal. It seems, though, that the alternative of being forced out of the colony poses such great danger and stress that in order to be allowed to stay, the subordinate females will allow themselves to be enslaved as punishment for their “illegal” roll in the hay.
Behavioral research like this is always important, because it helps us understand animals’ social hierarchies and group dynamics. In captivity, animals don’t always display the same behaviors, and conservation efforts depend on these insights into their natural behaviors in the wild.
Meerkats- I’ll bet you won’t look at them the same way again!