Recently I had a vibrant group of guests from Sydney, Australia. On meeting and greeting I asked what their their interests where. The immediate response from the three young boys was, “We want to see a kill!”. This is not an uncommon request… My usual response is, “So do I!”
Although large predators making kills happens fairly regularly in nature, actually witnessing it happen does not, and I see it as the gold medal of sightings. Wild dogs hunt as a pack and are considered the most successful hunters out there. Your best chance of seeing a kill would probably be to find and follow these athletic canines as they hunt small antelope usually up to the size of impala. And this is what I told the Sydney boys.
However, (I digress before I have begun) I do not intend to tell you about vicious carnivores tearing into dainty impala, but now that I have your attention, I want to talk about something quite different – the unexpected similarities between wild dogs and dwarf mongooses.
Both highly social species, the wild dog and dwarf mongoose live in close knit communities (both referred to as packs), and it is in their social lives that the most intriguing similarities lie.
These two unrelated species share a social structure in which a dominant male and female pair rule the roost. Referred to as the alpha male and female, they will lead their pack out when hunting or foraging. Females of each species will usually have their pups (term used for young of both species) in vacant termite mounds. The the rest of the pack help raise them by playing, grooming and protecting the young, and will even bring food back to the den site for them. Wild dog will regurgitate bits of meat for the pups while mongooses bring caught insects back to the den. The two “top dogs” (alpha male and female) in each species also dominate breeding, usually being the only members to have pups. There is, however, a sinister side to this.
In some instances the subordinate females get the chance to mate at the same time as the dominant female, but will either abort or lose their young after giving birth. This is most often due to infanticide by the alpha female. These females who have lost their young will then help suckle the young of the alpha female.
A possible reason for these social similarities developing among such different animals could be explained by something I mentioned in my last blog relating to similarities between Old World and New World vultures know as convergent evolution. Two different species, both social carnivores, have separately found it beneficial to adopt this altruistic social structure that has been the key to their success.
We had had a great safari with the boys from Sydney as we made our way back to camp on the last morning, but had not seen a kill… Yet. Then, turning the last corner into camp, the unmistakable small, brown shape of a dwarf mongoose shot out of the grass right next to our vehicle. Airborne for a split second, it smashed into a mouse, tackling it to the ground, savagely giving it a death shake and made off with its meal. We sat stunned for a few seconds. Then we all erupted in excitement as the Sydney boys shouting “We saw a kill”.
Perhaps not the full-blown article they were originally after, but definitely something to write home about. A special sighting of a kill, if not from a wild dog, then from the next most comparable thing.