The meerkat kit stolen from Perth Zoo on Wednesday has been returned to its manor but is not out of the woods yet, according to the zoo’s senior veterinarian.
Police are questioning a man and a woman after finding the baby meerkat in the Wheatbelt town of Beverley on Friday evening, about 48 hours after zoo officials raised the alarm that the animal was missing.
Initially unsure whether the little critter had been taken by a predatory bird or perhaps stolen by a human, zoo staff started a comprehensive search on Wednesday night and police worked tirelessly Thursday and Friday to follow up numerous leads that eventually led them to a house in Beverley.
Simone Vitali said keepers at the zoo were relieved to hear the young meerkat had been found but apprehensive about its condition after two days away from its mother.
“He was very stressed, tired and hungry – just like any bub that’s been away from mum – but after an evening of getting his favourite foods, a bit of warmth and a bit of quiet he’s really bounced back quite well so we’re quite happy with his progress so far,” she said on Saturday morning.
“There was always that concern that perhaps we might find that he was not in good shape and he is still not out of the woods, we’ve still got to get him back with the group and hope that they accept him as one of theirs and they haven’t decided to reject him.
The meerkat exhibit will remain out of bounds to visitors today as zoo keepers take a cautious and measured approach to reuniting the young survivor with mum Bamba and the rest of the meerkat mob.
“Over the next couple of days we will be trying to get him back with the group and to see what their reactions are. The keepers will be watching that very closely and we’ll be assessing that really minute by minute to make sure everything is going fine,” Ms Vitali said.
“We are very lucky that he was almost weaned by the time he went so he didn’t miss out on a lot of mum’s milk and he was already eating the things that a mature meerkat should eat.
“He’s taken to that well, so all the things are lining up that we should have a good outcome.
“We have got high hopes that the family will take him back again.”
No charges have been laid in relation to the meerkat’s apparent theft.
Kensington Police Sergeant Dean Kelland also said there was no indication the animal was taken for trafficking purposes, although police were continuing to investigate all possibilities as to why the animal was removed from its compound.
“There’s nothing to say that, my understanding is the people who were involved were keeping it as a pet,” he said.
Police and zoo staff will continue to investigate how the person or people responsible managed to sneak the animal out of the zoo.
While the immediate focus of zookeepers is on the baby meerkat’s health and wellbeing, Ms Vitali said the zoo would look at all options to increase security around all of its exhibits.
“You’ve got these open facilities which you need to give the animals good welfare – you like to have them open with lots of sunlight, lots of air and lots of height – and when you have animals in those facilities there is always the risk of theft, there is always the risk of predatory birds and that’s something we’re going to need to review quite carefully now that this has happened to see if we need to make changes,” she said.