The Banded Mongoose
The banded mongoose is found in large parts of East, Southeast and South-Central Africa. Populations have also been found in the northern savannahs of West Africa. They live in savannahs, open forests and grasslands, especially near water, but can also be found in dry, thorny bush land – although not in deserts.
The distribution of this highly gregarious small carnivore in South Africa is limited to eastern woodland savannahs, ranging from the KwaZulu-Natal coastal area northwards into woodlands of Mpumalanga, Northern and North Western provinces and Mozambique. There is a distributional hiatus between the above and populations further north westerly in Botswana and Namibia.
The banded mongoose prefer to use termite mounds as shelters, but also use rock shelters, thickets, gullies and warrens under bushes. Unlike the dwarf mongooses den, banded mongooses dens are less dependent on vegetation cover and have more entrances. Other mongoose species are solitary animals, but the banded mongoose are an exception, for they live in colonies with a very complex social structure. This is also the reason why they have more entrances into their dens, because more members in the group need access to the den. More entrances also helps with ventilation.
Physical Characteristics and Appearance:
The banded mongoose has rough grey, black and brown fur with notable horizontal bars across their back. Their limbs and snout are dark, while their under parts are lighter than the rest of their bodies. Banded mongooses that live in wetter areas appear to be larger and darker than those who live in dryer areas.
The banded mongoose is sturdy, with a large head, small ears, short muscular limbs and a long tail. The tail is almost as long as the rest of the body, which can be 15 to 30 cm. They have long strong claws which they use to dig in the soil. Adult banded mongooses can reach a length of 30 to 45 cm long and a weight of 1,5 to 2,25 kg . Banded mongoose males are only heavier than females during the immature stages. In adulthood both sexes are similar in size and mass.
Status and Population:
Their conservation status is of least concern, as their population is stable. Banded mongooses live in many of Africa’s protected areas. The Serengeti of Tanzania has a density of around 3 mongooses per km2. In southern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, mongoose numbers are at a similar density at 2.4 km2. Queen Elizabeth National Park has much higher mongoose densities at 18/km 2.
Overall the banded mongoose tends to be more abundant in the eastern and south-eastern areas of its range than in more western areas.
In contrary with a lot of Africa’s wild animal populations, the development of agriculture in Africa has had a positive impact on the number of banded mongooses, because the crops of the farmlands serve as an extra source of food for them.
Food Source and Foraging:
Invertebrates constitute the major portion of the diet. They feed mainly on beetles and millipedes, but they also eat ants, crickets, termites, grasshoppers, caterpillars, myriapods, earwigs and small reptiles and birds. They even eat frogs, lizards, small snakes, ground bird and the eggs of both birds and reptiles. They will sometimes drink water from rain pools and lake shores.
They forage in groups, but each member will search for their food alone and will eat individually, as they are not cooperative feeders. They forage in the morning for several hours, and then rest in the shade as the day gets hotter. They might forage again in the late afternoon. Banded mongoose will often be found near the dung of large herbivores, as the dung attracts beetles.
They rely on their sense of smell to locate their prey and use their long claws to dig them out. When they are hunting prey that secretes toxins, mongoose will roll them on the ground. Durable prey will be thrown on hard surfaces to access the contents. Mongooses have been seen clasping eggs with their front paws and throwing them behind them to try and break them.
The banded mongoose has no strict hierarchy and lives in mixed-sex groups where aggression is low. The groups may contain 7-40 individuals (average around 20), consisting of on average of 15 adults with their offspring. Group sizes in this species are largest for all carnivores.
They sleep together in groups at night in their dens and change dens often – about every 2-3 days. Although aggression is low amongst members of the same group, squabble over food may occur, however, the one who claims the food first wins. Most aggression and hierarchical behaviour occurs between males when the females are in oestrus.
The females are usually not aggressive, and live in hierarchies based on age. Older females have earlier oestrous periods and have larger litters.
When groups get to large, some individuals may be forced to leave the group by either males or females. The individuals then transfer to new packs or form their own new packs – in this manner population gene flow is accomplished.
Relations between groups are highly aggressive and mongooses are sometimes killed and injured during intergroup encounters. Nevertheless, breeding females will often mate with males from rival groups during fights. Mongooses establish their territories with scent markings that may also serve as communication between those in the same group. In the society of the banded mongoose there is a clear separation between mating rivals and territorial rivals. Individuals within groups are rivals for mates while those from neighbouring groups are competitors for food and resources.
Banded mongooses are social and very noisy animals – they can be heard chattering to each other for most of the day. They constantly emit short grunts to keep in contact with one another while foraging, and have specific calls to alert their fellow group members to danger or to the presence of rival packs. They work together in a group to fend off predators, first and foremost protecting their young and elderly.
Young mongooses reach sexual maturity at one year of age. Breeding is normally restricted to the rainy season, and during a female’s life time she can have an average of 1-4 litters per year. The pups are blind and partly-haired and their eyes open after about 10 days. Pups weigh about 20 grams when born.
Unlike most other social mongoose species, all females in a banded mongoose group can breed. They all enter oestrus around 10 days after giving birth, and are guarded and mated by 1–3 dominant males. The dominant males monitor the females and aggressively defend them from subordinates. While these males do most of the mating, the females often try to escape from them and mate with other males in the group. A dominant male will spend 2–3 days guarding each female. A guarding male will snap at, lunge at or pounce on any males that come near. A non-guarding male may follow a guarding male and his female and may face this aggression. Non-guarding males mate in a more secretive way.
Gestation is 60–70 days. In most breeding attempts, all females give birth either on the same day or within a few days. Litters range 2–6 pups and average 4.
Collective nursing of offspring takes place and for the first four weeks of life, pups stay in the dens where they form an exclusive relationship with a single helper or escort, whose genetic relationship with the pups is unknown. These helpers are generally young nonbreeding males or breeding females who have contributed to the current litter and they help to minimize competition over food allocation among pups. During this time they are guarded by these helpers while the other group members go on their foraging trips. After four weeks, the pups are able to go foraging themselves. Each pup is cared for by a single adult “escort” who helps the pup to find food and protects it from danger. Pups observe particular foraging techniques and then copy what they have seen when they grow up. Pups become nutritionally independent at three months of age.
In some locations (e.g., Kenya) banded mongooses have been found in close relationship with baboons. They forage together and probably enjoy greater security as a large group because of more eyes on the lookout for predators. The mongooses are handled by baboons of all ages and show no fear of such contact.
Banded mongooses have been observed removing ticks and other parasites from warthogs in Kenya and Uganda. It is a win-win situation as the mongooses get food, while the warthogs get cleaned.
Did you know ?
Banded mongooses are very brave and fearless little animals. When no refuge is available to them and they are hard-pressed by predators such as wild dogs, the group will form a compact arrangement in which they lie on each other with heads facing upwards and outwards.
Banded mongooses are even known to stand up to lions when they are confronted and threatened. Personal observations have shown mongoose jumping up and attacking the faces of lions that have had them surrounded.