Over the years, scientific films and National Geographic specials have inspired visitors to a small, out-of-the-way meerkat sanctuary here. One of the draws was a resident meerkat who served as the model for Timon in "The Lion King."
But that's nothing compared to the surge of interest since Animal Planet's hit series "Meerkat Manor" made stars of the Whisker family, the cooperative, contentious, highly dramatic animals that race through their days on the Kalahari Desert at fast-forward speed, following the lead of their matriarch, Flower, an expert in realpolitik and breeding. Cartoonishly digging, play fighting, scent marking and war hopping, the Whiskers wind up even their toughest days in a group hug.
As fans made "Meerkat Manor's" Season 2 finale Animal Planet's most watched prime-time show, television crews, newspaper and magazine reporters and curious individuals have worn ruts in the three dirt roads leading to the Fellow Earthlings' Wildlife Center. The center has a laundry basket full of cards, photos and drawings, not to mention gifts and handmade meerkat-themed curios, including a meerkat quilt.
With Season 3 launching on Friday, and a feature film planned for next year, the wait for ordinary visitors to see the seven meerkats inside their spacious enclosures now runs about six months, said founder Pam Bennett-Wallberg.
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