4 meerkat babies start exploring San Diego Zoo exhibit

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SAN DIEGO -- Four meerkat pups have emerged from their den and are now available for viewing by visitors to the San Diego Zoo.

Zoo staffers were aware that the mother, Debbie, was pregnant, and last month she began spending most of her time below ground -- typical behavior before birth.

Mother meerkats also generally keep their offspring away from other members of their family for about a week after birth, though Debbie relented in half the time, animal keepers said.

The month-old pups are now out of their den playing, eating and exploring their habitat. Video released by the zoo shows the baby meerkats moving about as older family members stand watch.

"The rest of the family, made up of older siblings, is also very involved with raising the pups,'' said animal keeper Liz Johnson. "They are great babysitters and are constantly checking on them. The pups are very vocal, and their siblings are quick to respond if they call out.''

Although their name may cause some confusion, meerkats are not cats. They are a weasel-like animal that is a member of the mongoose family.

Wild meerkat populations are currently stable, but over the past couple of decades, movies and television shows have brought meerkats a lot of attention, with many people wondering if they can keep a meerkat as a pet.

Although they may look cute, meerkats -- like all wild animals -- do not make good pets, and they are illegal to own without the proper permits and licenses, according to the zoo.