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    Meerkats Mourning Lady of the Manor

    The Whiskers clan is without a matriarch.

    Flower, the leader of the central gang of meerkats that is the focus of Animal Planet's documentary cum soap opera Meerkat Manor, died in February during filming of the show's third season after being bitten by a cobra. She was six.

    Friday's episode of the hit series, "A Journey's End," featured the events leading up to Flower's untimely death, which occurred during yet another meerkat struggle for survival in South Africa's Kalahari Desert—an inevitable part of the frequently compelling, albeit furry and adorable, drama that has made Meerkat Manor Animal Planet's number-one show.

    "Flower's courage and strength in life was mirrored in her passing," said senior executive producer Mick Kaczorowski. "Viewer and fans have become attached to Flower because she exemplified the qualities of a true hero and a veritable leader."

    According to Kaczorowski, Flower was buried onsite in a market grave by the Cambridge University scientists who preside over the Kalahari Meerkat Project.

    Although Animal Planet didn't televise news of Flower's passing, in order to stave off the viewer confusion that resulted when Flower's son Shakespeare was injured at the end of season one and then was gone by season two, a statement was posted in March on the network's Meerkat Manor message board informing fans that Flower hadn't survived a snakebite and would be missed.

    "When Shakespeare disappeared over the season, we weren't filming—there was no evidence, no body," Kaczorowski told the Los Angeles Times. "When we came back in Season 2, everybody was completely frustrated. Conspiracy theories came up. The most important thing is to track down the remains or stay with the body so we could put an end to the story."

    Animal Planet is planning a commemorative spot, an online tribute and a press event in New York to honor the Meerkat Manor heroine. There is also a feature film in the works, Queen of the Kalahari, which is intended to be a prequel about Flower's life prior to her small-screen stardom.

    "Flower was larger than life," said Marjorie Kaplan, general manager of Animal Planet and Discovery Kids Media. "She stood tall against her foes, readily and regularly faced conflict and was a pillar of strength for her family.

    "The circle of life is very much a reality in the animal kingdom. We at Animal Planet are devastated by the loss of Flower and recognize that her death will have a deep impact on our viewers. Life in the Kalahari will never be the same."

    Up in the air now is the fate of Zaphod, Flower's partner and the dominant male of the Whiskers mob. If losing his mate proves too much to handle, his brother Youssarian—a former top meerkat who has been pegged as having "social problems"—could rise again.

    Flower and Zaphod's son, Mitch, also has exhibited leadership qualities in the wake of his brother Shakespeare's death, and he could be a force to be reckoned with, as well.

    It's also unsure who will become the new female leader of the extensive clan. Flower's daughter Mozart is a possibility, but despite being caring and compassionate, she has estranged herself from the family more than once.

    No, the above was not a summary of a Dallas episode. Although just as it was for the Ewings when J.R. was shot, the Whiskers' societal order now hangs in the balance.

    The daily goings-on at the so-called manor may read like a page from any prime-time soap, replete with jealous exes, sibling rivalry, (meer)kat fights, pregnant daughters getting kicked out of the house and a lot of mating, but the stars of this show don't follow any script.

    Instead, it's a group of intrepid researchers, their specially built fiber-optic cameras and some crafty editors that have captured a slice of life that just happens to be taking place, at times, in a burrow.

    And while regular watchers of the series might sometimes trick themselves into thinking that they're watching teeny-tiny humans who just happen to have tails, crescent-shaped ears, tapered faces and particularly beady eyes, these mammals are members of the mongoose family.

    Sean Astin narrates the U.S. version of the Emmy-nominated series, while Brit Bill Nighy is the human voice of the U.K. and Canadian installments.

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