This week we move further afield and back in time as I recall a summer morning when we spent an hour or so watching a family of yellow mongooses on the Savuti plains in the south west of Botswana’s Chobe National Park.
It was way back in 2005, when driving along a sandy track we first saw the youngsters outside their burrow catching some early morning sunshine. They retreated down into the burrow but after a while cautiously remerged into the sunshine.
As we watched the youngsters an adult put in an appearance, perhaps checking up on the youngsters after going out foraging. Yellow mongooses have two to three pups per litter, with females producing two litters per year, so this litter of two was typical for the species.
Mated pairs of adult yellow mongooses (Cynictis penicillata) bring up the young on their own although their burrows may be part of a small network of burrows that form a warren housing a colony of resident mongooses, which may include the breeding pair’s immature offspring and a few other adults. In some regions with larger colonies there may be more than one breeding pair in the colony and yellow mongooses may also share warrens with ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) and suricates (Suricata suricatta).
In Botswana colonies are generally smaller than they are in more southerly regions. Yellow mongooses are endemic to the western and central regions of southern Africa. The family group of yellow mongooses that we spent well over an hour watching comprised only the two youngsters and their adult parents.
When emerging from the burrow the youngsters were very cautious looking around as well as skywards and also checking us out before stepping out from the shelter. Adult yellow mongooses can dig their own burrows and tunnels, but they may also adapt holes and burrows made by other animals such as ground squirrels.
Yellow mongooses are diurnal and unlike many other species of mongoose they hunt and forage individually or in pairs rather than as part of a pack. According to SANBI, yellow mongooses are unique in that they are the only species of mongoose known to bring large prey items such as rodents, bats or reptiles to their young while they are still in their burrows.
The mongooses that we watched on the Savuti plain were in the company of one or more red-billed spurfowls or francolins (Pternistis adspersus) most of the time. Both mongooses and birds frequently cocked their heads to scan the skies for raptors, seemingly offering each other improved surveillance for predators. The red-billed spurfowl (above) I photographed at our Savuti campsite.
Young yellow mongooses stay with their parents for about 10 months before dispersing. As we watched, the parents frequently interacted with the youngsters, including grooming them as in the photo above.
Yellow mongooses are territorial and breeding males patrol and scent-mark their territories daily, sometimes assisted by the breeding female. The male also scent marks all members of his family using anal-pouch secretions.
Being the only species in their genus (Cynictis), twelve subspecies of yellow mongooses have been identified. Characteristics differ across the subspecies, with those in the south west tending towards being larger in size, with longer fur and a distinctive white tip to the tail. They are also yellower in colour, although sometimes reddish. Those in Botswana tend to be greyer in colouration and they lack the white tip to the tail, which confused us mightily when we first saw them in this region until we consulted our guide book with greater attention and read that in northern Botswana the white tip to the tail is lacking. Regional colour and fur variations are such that they are also known as red or bushy-tailed meerkats.
While watching the mongooses, we saw the adults would come and go, presumably going off on foraging excursions. Insects form the bulk of their diet, for example beetles, termites, crickets and locusts, but they will also eat larger prey such as mice and other rodents and small mammals, birds and reptiles.
While the youngsters were playing in the sandy road (not a single other vehicle passed by the whole time we were with them) there was quite some excitement when one of the adults returned carrying a large beetle that was given to one of the youngsters.
In the above photo one of the youngsters is investigating the beetle. I fancy that the adult looks almost proud about bringing home such bounty to share.
The youngster is tucking into eating the beetle for breakfast. This was at around 8 a.m. Although the shadows are still quite long the rising sun was gaining in heat and brightness. These photos are not technically the best, but interesting enough to share I think.
The family of yellow mongooses was enchanting to watch, proving that one does not need to see the ‘big five’ when out ‘on safari’ to be utterly captivated when visiting even small nature reserves. Simply enjoying the landscapes and vegetation and keeping alert to the small creatures can make such a trip constantly interesting. We have on occasion met visitors in safari vehicles complaining that there is ‘nothing to see’ even while – for instance – lilac-breasted rollers fly past, elegant antelope congregate nearby, golden grasses ripple in the breeze and puffy clouds scud by overhead.
A couple of hours after tearing ourselves away from the family of yellow mongooses we came across a small group of banded mongooses (Mungos mungo). Banded mongooses tend to live in large packs, keeping in touch with almost constant twittering contact calls, and they are also pack foragers.
Banded mongooses seem to prefer areas with more cover than the yellow mongooses, but these emerged from the vegetation to take a sand bath on the side of the sandy road.
Like yellow mongooses, banded mongooses scent-mark territory and as well as members of their family and pack. We assume that the mongoose in the photo above is straddling his companion to scent mark using secretions from the anal pouch.
On average, banded mongooses are twice the weight and height of yellow mongooses, with banded mongooses weighing between 1 and 1.6 kg (2.2–3.5 lbs).
And to end, here is another photo of one of the young yellow mongooses above the entrance to the burrow. What a totally cute little predator it is!
Cillié, Burger. 1987. A Field Guide: Mammals of Southern Africa. Sandton: Frandsen Publishers; Dorst, Jean & Dandelot, Pierre. 1984. A Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. London: Collins; Estes, Richard. 1993. The Safari Companion a Guide to Watching African Mammals. Halfway House: Russel Friedman; Ngalo, Stemmer. 2014. Yellow Mongoose. Animal of the Week. South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). https://www.sanbi.org/animal-of-the-week/yellow-mongoose/
Posted by Carol