Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Meerkat Mania And The Power Of Advertising

The meerkat is a small mammal, a member of the mongoose family. Meerkats live in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and in South Africa. They also hang out at Marwell Wildlife Park in Hampshire; I was there last weekend, strolling in the sunshine and admiring the animals. Big cats, a scowling white rhino, antelopes of all sorts, fish, reptiles. Marwell is so spacious, generally a peaceful place despite its visitors.

But at the meerkat enclosure, a small, low-walled sandy domain with plenty of roots to burrow between, things are different. As we approached, I tried a little bet with my companion - she didn't take me up on it - about the comments we'd overhear from the people clustering round. And sure enough, amid laughter, it was all "compare the meerkat dot com"; "simples" (then squeaking sound); and, scarily verbatim, "if you're looking for deals on cheap car insurance, comparethemarket dot com ha ha ha."

Exposed to this, over and over again, was the attendant assigned to the meerkats' little realm. What had she done to have her duties transformed into the worst job in the world? Did she even hear the crowds after the first few hours? In fact she was remarkably cheerful, because she loved the animals; she confessed the passing people were something of a blur.

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