It's a long way from the deserts of Africa, but Edinburgh Zoo's meerkat family are enjoying their new home.

The animals have been moved into an enclosure fitted with heated caves, underground tunnels and a sand area for digging.

Meerkats are one of the zoo's most popular attractions. Glass panelling along the front of their enclosure means younger visitors can come face to face with the charismatic creatures.

Best-selling writer Alexander McCall Smith is a fan and was invited to the grand opening of the enclosure. He is the author of Precious And The Mystery Of Meerkat Hill and wrote the screenplay for the 2008 film Meerkats: The Movie.

He said: "Meerkats are just so interesting because they are always doing something. They are always investigating what's going on and are very lively.

"Children love them dearly and adults also rather like meerkats. They have, of course, had quite a lot of exposure on television in one way or another so have become sort of little animal celebrities, which they have handled very well. It hasn't spoiled them."

Meerkats are native to Botswana, where McCall Smith's multi-million selling series The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is set.

They are carnivores and are fed chicks, mice, crickets and meal worms by zoo staff.

Keeper Alison MacLean said: "They're popular with both adults and children. They always seem to be on the move, they are always doing something and work together as a group.

"The new enclosure is lovely for them, they've got loads of different areas to move around in. They've got some naturalistic hides that are buried down tunnels in the ground and they've got heated caves which are particularly liked by meerkats so they can get out of the midday sun but at the same time still be in a nice warm place.

"You usually find nine meerkats in the cave and maybe one on top because they always leave a sentinel out to keep a lookout for any potential predators."

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