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Get to Know the Mongoose



This blog was written by Ryan Sakinofsky, a Bushwise Professional Field Guide student. Each student takes a turn as camp manager, and writing a blog is part of the experience.


Read time: 3 mins


No one is quite sure of the plural of mongoose, is it mongooses? Mongeese? Mongera? Well according to a trusted source (Google), it is mongooses. 

Mongooses are small carnivores well known for their long tails, agile bodies, small ears and pointed faces that are adapted for burrowing. Mongooses occupy many habitats from forest to savannah. They have a wide range of behavioural traits, whether they live in social groups or are solitary individuals.


Mongooses belong to the family Herpestidae, which includes all mongoose species as well as suricates. Those who have visited the Mahlahla Campus have undoubtedly caught a glimpse of our cutest residents, the dwarf mongooses.


Since arriving at Bushwise in July, we have spotted or seen tracks of: 

  • dwarf mongoose (Helogale parva)

  • banded mongoose (Mungos mungo)

  • white tail mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda)

  • water mongoose (Atilax paludinosus)


A mongooses’ place in the food web

Ecologically, mongooses are important links in food webs acting as secondary consumers. They consume insects, rodents, and even birds. Mongoose get eaten by larger carnivores – known as tertiary consumers – such as jackals, hyenas, eagles, and other birds of prey. However, a major threat to the mongoose species is the wildlife and traditional medicine trade. 


Unfortunately, many conservation measures are focused on large species and not the smaller species we have. There is a method in the madness though as larger species need more space and resources and by conserving areas that are suitable for them, many of the smaller species will be conserved as well.



Mongoose business

The social mongoose species – dwarf and banded – live in large family groups called a business. Individuals within the business will all contribute to its success. Individuals will groom each other – known as allo-grooming – to strengthen social bonds. Social mongooses are even known to mark each other with secretions from the anal glands which means that the business will have a very distinct smell and members can recognize each other. 


Members of the business will also assist in the raising of the young which ensures that most young make it to adulthood. Most importantly, there is safety in numbers and social mongooses will often mob potential threats to intimidate them and cause them to flee.


The birds and the mongooses

Dwarf mongoose has mutualistic relationships with many insectivorous birds, such as fork-tailed drongos, lilac-breasted rollers, shrikes, and hornbills. Drongos are exceptionally useful to the mongooses as they alert the mongoose to any potential predators in the area. In exchange, the birds eat any insects that are disturbed by the mongooses while they forage. 


However, drongos are exceptionally good at mimicking the calls of other birds and animals and will sometimes mimic the alarm call of the mongoose! The mongooses scatter, leaving the drongo to feast on the insects they left behind. It is fair to think that the mongooses would get annoyed with the drongos for cheating them out of a meal, but the drongos are smarter than that and rarely cry wolf.



Mongooses are intelligent. They see the value in working with insectivorous birds and using them as alarm systems. Those that do work with birds have less of a need for sentries which means each individual gets to spend more time foraging. 


Social mongooses

Recent research has shown that yellow mongooses (Cynictis penicillate) in residential areas can learn how to solve puzzle boxes and can do the puzzles quicker over time. Additionally, social mongoose species as well as the suricate (Suricata suricatta) show a wider variation in their communication signals compared to the slender mongoose, which is solitary.


Many of us, myself included, have previously seen mongoose species as something cute and entertaining to watch, but once they disappear into the long grass or back into their burrows, we never really give them a second thought. Mongooses are intelligent, socially adept creatures. I have had the pleasure of observing them every day on campus, and I know that many future students will get as much joy out of watching our smallest mammal residents as I do.


Join us out here and be part of the next group of Bushwise students discovering all the new and incredible things there are to see in the African bush.


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