PHILADELPHIA ZOO (WPVI) --One by one, the meerkats popped their heads out of the Small Mammal House at the Philadelphia Zoo Wednesday.
Welcome to Meerkat Maze.
"It's giving them things they've never seen, never smelled. New places to explore. The whole trail is an opportunity to dig for them," Lead Zookeeper Steph Oberlin said.
Ground based trails allow the small African carnivores to explore and burrow. There are lookout towers and high points for these creatures famous for standing sentry. As the mob of meerkats meander, a parallel tunnel gives guests a closer look.
"You're inches away from the meerkats. It's really, really cool," 10-year-old Jack Martin said.
"It was like being with them," 5-year-old Levi Oman said.
This set up is a new experience for the visitors, but it's also a new adventure for these often curious meerkats.
Enticed by meatballs and insects and lured by the promise of new activities, four of the meerkats have taken to venturing out.
The other two, Pete and Sethunya, have been lingering in the tower. They are a little more cautious in early days, but that's expected to change as they adjust.
"They're really inquisitive and fascinated by new things. They're easily entertained," Oberlin said.
This is the latest extension of Zoo360, a network of mesh trails that allow visitors to gaze at animals as they roam around the zoo. Each system is designed with the specific animal in mind, and the Meerkat Maze is a slightly different approach from the primates and big cats they started with.
"We thought it was an opportunity this year to try a different approach and a slightly different model of a trail system for smaller animals. So meerkats are our pilot for that," Philadelphia Zoo COO Andy Baker said.
New sights. New sounds. New terrain awaits.