The Mongoose in Africa
Famously, some species of mongoose will boldly attack venomous snakes such as cobras. The most celebrated of these is Rudyard Kipling’s fictional Rikki-tikki-tavi, based on an ancient fable and included in The Jungle Book.
Protection status: Threatened
Where to find the Mongoose
Mongooses are primarily found in Africa, their range covering most of the continent. Some species occupy parts of southern Asia and the Iberian Peninsula. They are generally terrestrial mammals, but some are semi-aquatic, and others are at home in the treetops.
How to identify the Mongoose
Ranging in size from the 7-inch-long (18-centimeter-long) dwarf mongoose to the 2-foot-long (60-centimeter-long) Egyptian mongoose; these sleek mammals have long bodies with short legs and tapered snouts. Mongoose range in weight from the squirrel-sized Common Dwarf Mongoose, at 280 g (9.9 oz), to the cat-sized White-tailed Mongoose, at 4 kg (8.8 lb).
They normally have brown or gray grizzled fur, and a number of species sport striped coats or ringed tails.
What the Mongoose eat
Mongooses live in burrows and are non-discriminatory predators, feeding on small animals such as rodents, birds, reptiles, frogs, insects, and worms. Some species supplement their diet with fruits, nuts, and seeds. Creative hunters, they are known to break open bird eggs by throwing them with their forepaws toward a solid object.
In the 1800s mongooses were introduced to several islands in Hawaii and the West Indies in order to control the rodent populations on sugarcane plantations. Today this effort has come back to haunt these islands as mongooses threaten the survival of various native species, particularly birds. However, in their natural environments mongooses are currently threatened themselves due to habitat loss.
The Meerkat or Suricate (Suricata suricatta), a smaller species, lives in troops of 20 to 30 consisting of an alpha male and female, usually together with their siblings and offspring, in open country in Southern Africa (Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa). The Meerkat is a small, diurnal mammal that forages for invertebrates in open country. Its behavior and small size (it weighs less than 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) make it vulnerable to larger carnivores and birds of prey. However, it eats small, migrating birds.
To protect the foraging troops from predators, one Meerkat serves as a sentinel that climbs to a vantage point and watches for danger. If the sentinel detects a predator it gives a loud alarm to warn the troop and indicate whether the threat comes from the air or the ground. If from the air, the meerkats rush to the nearest hole. If from the ground, the troop flees, but they are more able to evade terrestrial predators than raptors.
The Indian Mongoose and others are popularly used to fight and kill venomous snakes, including cobras. They can do this because of their agility and cunning, and their thick coat. They typically avoid the cobra and have no particular affinity for consuming its meat.
About the Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula)
Like other feliformian carnivorans, mongooses descended from the viverravines, which were civet- or genet–like mammals. Older classifications sometimes placed mongooses in the Viverridae family, but both morphological and molecular evidence speaks against the monophyly of this group, though they do have the same basic dental formula as the viverrids. Mongooses also have characteristic behavioural features that distinguish them from viverrids and other feliformian families. Less diverse than the viverrids, the mongoose family includes 11 genera and 30 species.
The Helogale pervula (common dwarf mongoose) is closely related to the family Hyaenidae (hyenas), Viverridae (civets) and Felidae (lions). The species that come from their common ancestor also relate them more closely to canines than to the family Mustelidae, which contains weasels, badgers and otters.
Scientific Classification of the Mongoose
Marsh Mongoose, Atilax paludinosus
Bushy-tailed Mongoose, Bdeogale crassicauda
Jackson's Mongoose, Bdeogale jacksoni
Black-footed Mongoose, Bdeogale nigripes
Alexander's Kusimanse, Crossarchus alexandri
Angolan Kusimanse, Crossarchus ansorgei
Common Kusimanse, Crossarchus obscurus
Flat-headed Kusimanse, Crossarchus platycephalus
Yellow Mongoose, Cynictis penicillata
Pousargues' Mongoose, Dologale dybowskii
Angolan Slender Mongoose, Galerella flavescens
Cape Gray Mongoose, Galerella pulverulenta
Slender Mongoose, Galerella sanguinea
Ethiopian Dwarf Mongoose, Helogale hirtula
Common Dwarf Mongoose, Helogale parvula
Short-tailed Mongoose, Herpestes brachyurus
Indian Gray Mongoose, Herpestes edwardsii
Indian Brown Mongoose, Herpestes fuscus
Egyptian Mongoose, Herpestes ichneumon
Small Asian Mongoose, Herpestes javanicus
Long-nosed Mongoose, Herpestes naso
Collared Mongoose, Herpestes semitorquatus
Ruddy Mongoose, Herpestes smithii
Crab-eating Mongoose, Herpestes urva
Stripe-necked Mongoose, Herpestes vitticollis
White-tailed Mongoose, Ichneumia albicauda
Liberian Mongoose, Liberiictis kuhni
Gambian Mongoose, Mungos gambianus
Banded Mongoose, Mungos mungo
Selous' Mongoose, Paracynictis selousi
Meller's Mongoose, Rhynchogale melleri
Meerkat, Suricata suricatta