Meerkats in zoos fight over food more aggressively, are pickier about which of their peers they groom and have less stable relationships than those living in the wild.
This may be due to living such a comfortable life, free of predators and with food and housing reliably available without having to work together for it, says Xareni Pacheco at the Autonomous University of Mexico State.
"Meerkats in zoos fight over food more aggressively, are pickier about which of their peers they groom and have less stable relationships than those living in the wild."
Scientists refer to mongooses (Meerkats) as being "eusocial" because they display advanced levels of social organization.
In order to conduct their research, scientists studied more than 100 wild meerkats living in eight groups in South Africa for around a decade. They observed 113 meerkats living in 15 social groups for 300 hours living in 13 zoos in the UK and Mexico, most of whom lived in enclosures resembling their native habitat. They recorded data for 5,689 social encounters.
The results of the comparisons and differences in the social behavior of captive and wild mongooses—the types of social networks they establish and maintain—clearly show that captivity strongly affects their behavior. Scientists found that the meerkats in captivity "were more selective when choosing which friends to groom, resulting in less popular meerkats rarely getting groomed. Dominant meerkats also fought with fewer individuals but more aggressively, growling at, 'hip-slamming' and biting other individuals."