Head and body length: 30 – 45 cm
Tail length: 15 – 30 cm
Weight: 1.5 – 2.25 kg
A small, weasel-like carnivore. All mongooses are very social and are often seen traveling in large family groups.
Up to four young will be born after a two-month gestation, most often during the rainy season. There will often be three or four breeding females within a pack, and any of the lactating females will nurse any of the young.
Where to look for them:
Mongooses can be found in nearly all of the savannah and woodland areas in Murchison Falls. The banded mongoose is particularly found in areas with many termite mounds, as they excavate them to create burrows. There are at least five types of mongoose that live in the park (banded, marsh, savannah, Egyptian, and white-tailed).
What to notice:
- In one of the few examples of good fatherhood in the animal kingdom, male mongooses play a large role in raising young and training them to forage. The father will even instigate play with the young.
- Packs can number as large as 40 members, with only one breeding male and three or four females. This means that if you are watching a large grouping, the hierarchy is determined not by gender, but by size and attitude.
- They will come together as a group to ward off predators, and can even chase a predator to get it to release its prey if it has caught a group member.
Visually, mongooses are the African equivalent of the weasel. The banded mongoose is grayish-brown with clear bands across its back, relatively long tail and pointed snout. The legs and face are darker than the back. (Personal observations)
Color varies by habitat. Darker and larger in moist habitats, lighter and smaller in dryer areas. (Kingdon, p. 247)
There are four main, regional types, the East African subspecies is M.m.colonus. (Kingdon, p. 247)
Replaced by the suricate in drier parts of Botswana and Namibia. (Estes, p. 315)
Woodlands, savannah, acacia scrublands, grasslands and cultivated areas. They like areas with a lot of termite activity, as they convert their mounds into burrows. (Kingdon, p. 247)
Throughout East and Central Africa, as well as a belt between the Sahara and the rainforests, where they have adapted to areas of cultivation. (Kingdon, p. 247)
Packs possess exclusive territories up to 130 hectares, but there is continual competition along boundaries between territories. (Kingdon, p. 248)
During a day of foraging, a pack will cover 2-3 km per day in Uganda, and up to 10 km per day in the Serengeti. (Estes, p. 316)
Termites, beetle larvae, small vertebrates. (Kingdon, p. 248)
Also millipedes, earwigs, ants, crickets, spiders, mice, toads, bird eggs, lizards, snakes. Vertebrates make up a very small part of their diet. Water is consumed sparingly by licking wetted paws. (Estes, p. 315)
2-month gestation, up to 4 young born per litter. Any lactating female will suckle young. (Kingdon, p. 248)
Most births happen during the rainy season. Multiple females come into estrus and mate with multiple males during a six-day estrus. Females begin breeding at 11 months, and within the pack there may be up to 4 litters per year (not each individual female). Eyes open after 9 days, they leave the den at 3-4 weeks, and by 5 weeks they join the pack on all foraging outings. By six weeks they have adult coloration. (Estes, p. 317)
Males play a large role in training the young to forage. (Estes, p. 317)
Live in packs of up to 40 members, but if it goes beyond 40, it will break into smaller bands of 15 – 20. Packs generally include one breeding male and 3 or 4 breeding females. Hierarchy is based on size and attitude rather than gender. (Kingdon, p. 248)
Occasionally there are multiple breeding males in a pack. Dominant pairs are probably determined by seniority. Female offspring may stay in natal pack, but males generally emigrate. (Estes, p. 315)
Males are more aggressive to other packs and scent-mark more often than females. The packs tend to be closed to outsiders, and in one study in Uganda, no outsiders joined the pack in three years. (Estes, p. 315)
If two packs with bordering territories come upon each other, they will often just leave. If they are both trying to spend the night in the same den, the larger group will chase away the smaller group. Equally matched packs may fight. Fights are loud and energetic, and may last for hours. (Estes, p. 316)
When foraging, packs spread out, but stay connected with vocalizations. They scratch up the litter and check out every hole and opening, as well as turning over rocks and dung. They can smell invertebrates below the surface of the ground and will dig to retrieve them. An individual is protective of a discovered food source, but can’t help but make an excited sound when it finds one, which brings the rest of the pack. (Estes, p. 316)
If threatened by a predator, a pack will put together an intimidating mobbing attack. They will often deter predators as large as servals or large dogs, and have even been known to mob bushbucks, geese and other non-threats. They advance as one snarling, writhing creature, and will even pursue a predator who has taken a pack member to try to retrieve it. (Estes, p. 318)
In one study, over half of 144 investigated den sites were in thickets, mostly in termite mounds, 21% were in erosion gulleys, 15% were in open termite mounds near cover, 11% were in holes in the open, and 3% were made by humans. Dens had 1-9 entrances, with tunnels leading up to 210 cm into the den. Tunnel diameters were approx. 9 cm. They led to chambers 150 x 90 cm and 50 cm high. (Estes, p. 315)
Anal-gland scent-marking is frequent. Stones, stumps, termitaries and group members are marked on a daily basis. A mongoose will present its banded rump, which will stimulate scent-marking by another mongoose. The entire pack shared a “communal odor”. (Kingdon, p. 248)
Wide variety of vocalizations. Soothing chitters and churrs as contact calls, explosive chattering and squealing for anger or threat.
Strictly diurnal. (Kingdon, p. 247)
After spending the night together in a den for warmth, pack emerges about one hour after dawn. One at a time, they stick their head out, sniff the air and come out if it is safe. They relieve themselves at a common latrine and then spend time playing and grooming each other before beginning to forage. After 2-3 hours of intense feeding, they take a rest break in shade during the heat of the day. There is an afternoon activity period from about 4 until just before sunset. (Estes, p. 316)
Birds, snakes, medium-sized carnivores. Their group behavior makes them not an easy target.
Not endangered. There is currently a banded mongoose research project being conducted at Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Estes, R. (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press.
Kingdon, J. (1997). The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Walker, C. (1996). Signs of the Wild: A Field Guide to the Spoor & Signs of the Mammals of Southern Africa. (5th Edition). Cape Town, South Africa: Struik Publishers Ltd.
Photo by Charles Steinberg