Meerkats, those members of the mongoose family living in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa, are endearingly cute in both their physical appearance and in the intricate social interactions and hierarchies among their clans. So it is no surprise they have gained fans through their depictions in popular forms of entertainment that have likely introduced many to these delightful and interesting animals. One of the first and best known pop-culture meerkats was the fictional Timon, the beloved character who became part of Disney’s animated The Lion King franchise starting with the 1994 feature film.
On a more realistic front, the Emmy-nominated 2005-08 British natural history series Meerkat Manor (which aired here in the States on Animal Planet) mesmerized many viewers as it followed several real-life meerkat groups — primarily a clan called the Whiskers, led by a matriarch dubbed Flower — that were being studied by scientists in the Kalahari at the time. The behavior of meerkats captured on film for that series — accompanied by dramatic narration read by noted actors (Bill Nighy in the U.K., Sean Astin and Stockard Channing in the U.S.) — proved a compelling, informative and entertaining watch that combined science and soap opera.
Captivated viewers soon became emotionally invested in the various “characters” of this meerkat world. On display at every turn was life and death (dry eyes were scarce when Flower died from a snakebite in Season 3 and was succeeded by her daughter Rocket Dog), romance and heartbreak, humor and more intra- and inter-family drama and power struggles than one might find in Game of Thrones or The Sopranos.
More of that is on hand this month when Meerkat Manor: Rise of the Dynasty debuts as the latest installment in the franchise. Airing Saturdays as part of BBC America’s Wonderstruck natural history programming block, with Nighy returning to narrate, the half-hour series continues the dramatic saga of survival, this time revolving around three families of meerkats that are descendants of the legendary Flower.
Neighbors and rivals who share a bloodline are forced to compete for food and resources in the Kalahari, an environment that is undergoing a great deal of change. As with previous seasons, there will be a narrative, and specific meerkat characters, that viewers will follow over the course of the episodes. So get ready to pick your favorite, and perhaps gear up to again have your heartstrings tugged by the big emotions these little creatures can evoke.