VVF001 – Vivian (The First Meerkat)

Vivian with her first litter (1995, photograph: Pete Brotherton)

Vivian with her first litter (1995, photograph: Pete Brotherton)

Natal group: Wild
Code: VVF001
Birth date: unknown
Last seen:  26th March 2000
Mother:  unknown
Father:  unknown
Litter mates: unknown

Vivian holds the place as the First Habituated Meerkat at the KMP. Way back in the early days of the KMP, she was everybody’s darling…

Vivian was brought to the KMP in November 1994. She was a semi-domesticated young female who was born in the Middelpüts area (a border post to Botswana, some 20 km from the KMP); her “owners” didn’t want to keep her and brought her to the handful of researchers which comprised the KMP back then. Vivian was released in the range of the Drie Doring group, who were one of the more habituated groups at that time – yet far from today’s habituation levels. But she soon moved back to the farmhouse. And this was what made Vivian special – and everybody’s darling: She was the one habituated meerkat among a population of wild ones that had barely learned to get used to and tolerate humans! Or in the words of Pete Brotherton who was one of the first postdocs at the KMP:

“I always remember the tension between us all wanting her to become ‘wild’ and yet rather loving it when she turned up at the house. This was a time when there were very few habituated meerkats on the farm (really only Lazuli group) and so it was still a treat to see them so close and I remember a lot of half-hearted ‘shooing’ from volunteers supposedly chasing her out of the kitchen. She used to love cooling off on the stone stoop (as she is doing in the photo).”

Silks, Asphodel and VVM002 (1995, photographer: Pete Brotherton)

Silks, Asphodel and VVM002 (1995, photographer: Pete Brotherton)

It wasn’t before September 1995 that Vivian teamed up with meerkat males, three Drie Doring brothers who deserted her after two weeks to rove and found the Young Ones group with the Avatar sisters, Morgause and Igraine. The males did leave her with a parting gift though, in the form of a litter of four pups born in November 1995: VVM001 Silks, VVM002, VVF003 Asphodel and VVU9501 who was soon predated. Silks lived happily ever after in the Elveera group, and Asphodel in Rascals, but VVM002 founded the X-iles group and was it seems one of the first obvious cases of meerkat TB.  Vivian managed to raise her first pups without helpers (except for the occasional human helper…).

Only a year later, VDM008 returned to Vivian and her offspring and stayed for good – causing Silks to leave. The group thus consisted of four individuals – but Vivian and Asphodel grew it to 15 by March 1997! Fate struck in May in the form of a martial eagle who took her first mate VDM008. The vacant spot at Vivian’s side was taken by Stinker (VYM005, VDM008’s nephew) who would remain with her until death parted them. The life history file then gets quiet about the Vivian group – mostly mentioning litters being born to her, but occasionally also to her daughters – Vivian wasn’t as tough as other dominant females it seems! Still, her male and female offspring started to form new groups elsewhere…

On 24th March 2000, Vivian gave birth to two pups which were found killed two days later. Vivian obviously felt unwell after giving birth, having contractions for days. She remained in the birth burrow and didn’t emerge again. She was considered dead. Her oldest resident daughter, Rhian (VVF029) claimed dominance immediately and led Vivian’s group until their demise in 2007.

Vivian gave birth to 13 litters including 41 pups, in the five years of her reign. Just one of her litters was lost, but she aborted twice. 36 pups have confirmed fathers: Arah, VDM008 or Stinker. Her pups’ names read like a Who’s Who of the KMP population. Here is a list of those who made a career as a dominant: Silks at Elveera, Asphodel and Splash at Rascals, VVM002 at X-iles, Sparkle at Nemesis, Basil at Lazuli, Izit at Vivian, Whiskers and Gattaca, Rhian at Vivian, Yossarian and Zaphod at Whiskers (and Aztecs), Alexander at Young Ones and Govinda at Xhosa. So Vivian’s blood runs deep in the KMP population even today, in her great-great-…-grandchildren.

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