Saturday, September 29

"The desert has lost its favorite rose"

Flower is dead. She died as she lived, as a great leader and a great warrior. She was cut down, not by a warrior from another tribe but from wounds she received while battling a poisonous snake. It was a battle she fought to defend her newborns and tribe, when cramped quarters meant that only one in the tribe could go after the snake.

I am sure that millions of people from around the globe join me in mourning her death. Yet I cannot feel anguish at Flower's passing because she lived her life so well, so completely. She perfectly fulfilled her potential. Death, for such ones, is a grand passage.

Flower represents the mystery of good leadership. Those who would accuse me of anthropomorphizing her have not watched the Meerkat Manor documentary during the three seasons it has run. Truly, there are many human traits in meerkats -- and many meerkat traits in humans. So one can study leadership in human affairs by observing Flower in her roles as tribal leader and general.

Many times one could watch her deliberating and making fast calculations when a threat to the tribe quickly materialized. She knew when to be ruthless for the sake of the tribe, and when to be compassionate. She made few mistakes. She knew when to act boldly, when to retreat, and when to act in conservative fashion.

One of her last acts was to allow her tribe to adopt a baby meerkat who had been abandoned by an enemy tribe -- a very unusual act for a meerkat. But there was no need to kill the baby. There was a time of plenty in the Kalahari desert, so the baby would not be competing for precious resources with other members of the tribe. One could see Flower reaching the reasonable decision after she observed that the baby was well received by the tribe.

The documentary did not show her formative months, nor did it show her parents. We met Flower when she was a mature leader. So one might speculate that she had a good role model. Yet the documentary showed leaders of other meerkat tribes. Some were smart, very brave, cunning -- but they lacked that ineffable quality we call nobility, and which Flower possessed.

I will miss her, and I appreciated the tribute that the documentary producers gave her. ("The desert has lost its favorite rose.") And yet thinking of Flower's life makes me recall that I am happy to be alive, to be able to witness the triumphs of those who work hard to deserve triumph.

I am grateful to the scientists and film crews who spent years painstakingly studying the meerkat tribes of the Kalahari and recording their lives. I am grateful to Animal Planet TV for producing Meerkat Manor.

And I am grateful I learned about such a splendid being, who made her tribe into the most formidable meerkat tribe in the Kalahari, who stood no more than 12 inches tall and died a hero's death.
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October 1 Update
I've learned that Flower died in February of this year; at least that was when the show's executive producer notified a meerkat fan club about her death. I learned only on Friday, when Meerkat Manor in the US broadcast the news. The producer wrote that Flower lived longer than most meerkats.

For a beautiful picture of Flower, go here. Now isn't that a face fit for a memorial coin? The odd thing around her neck is a radio collar.

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