Orphans compare the meerkat: Babies snuggle up to cuddly toy after mother dies in childbirth
These adorable orphaned babies compared the meerkat - and decided that the cuddly toy version was just like their dead mother.
The five baby meerkats lost their parent, Anika, shortly after chidbirth, after the trauma of labour combined with her age proved too much.
But rather than leave them alone, owner Steve Rowlands, 28, came up with an ingenious way to get them through what could have been a difficult childhood.
Mother figure: The cuddly toy has become a replacement mother for the meerkat babies
Using a ten-inch tall meerkat cuddly toy and a hot water bottle, he has now managed to recreate the motherly experience for the tiny creatures.
Now the furry four-inch animals get a near-authentic start to life at their home at Tropical Inc in Oldbury, West Midlands.
'The babies are a month old now and they lost their mum just two days after they were born,' said Mr Rowlands.
'We bought the toy to try and lessen the trauma for them and try and make things as natural as possible. We put it in with them and they just snuggled up to it like it was their mother.
'To recreate the warmth that Anika would have given off we also found a small hot water bottle and got the right temperature. They now assume that the toy is their mum and they are acting completely normally around it.
Snuggling up: The five meerkats assume the toy is their mother and act completely normal around it, said owner Steve Rowlands
'Of course every hour we have to feed them milk ourselves, but use miniature little bottles which recreate how they would get it from mum.
'We even give it to them near the toy so they can't tell the difference between it and their mother - it's a really good result.'
The meerkat is a member of the mongoose family and is native to the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and South Africa. They are renowned for how they act as groups and it is their social behaviour that has seen the species become so popular in recent years.
The BBC's Meerkat Manor became a surprise overnight success story when it first aired in September 2005, and has a slew of famous fans, including Oasis' Noel Gallagher.
Simples! Aleksandr the Meerkat from comparethemarket.com advert
But the animals have really shot to fame in the past few months thanks to a TV advert campaign by insurance comparison company Compare the Market.com.
In the ads, meerkat Aleksandr vents his frustrations over internet users visiting his website Compare the Meerkat.com by mistake.
Mr Rowlands, whose business takes the creatures into schools for lessons and rescues hurt animals, added: 'At around six weeks old we are going to wean them away from their cuddly mum, as they would be in real life. That's when we can hopefully put them back in with their dad.
'Until they are a bit older there is the possibility that the father might think they were not safe and kill them. The way we have done this with the surrogate mum has been absolutely ideal.'
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