At Londolozi, we are lucky enough to see a wide variety of mammals, from the giant elephants who have been around for years to the tiny bushveld gerbil that we only ever see in a fleeting glimpse flying over the road. From my point of view, one of the most amusing species is on the smaller end of the spectrum, the dwarf mongoose.
Being the smallest carnivores in Africa doesn’t hold back these ferocious predators, that will feed on anything they can overpower. Sometimes relying on the collective efforts of the family group, in these efforts, they have been known to bring down and consume snakes, birds, and large lizards. Imagine that, but just shows you what teamwork can do, no matter how small you are.
Dwarf mongooses are highly social animals that can live in groups consisting of up to 30 animals, often seen scurrying through the grass in hot pursuit of the next meal. Lead by an Alpha pair, pretty similar to the wild dogs. This pair is often the biggest, strongest, and most dominant of the group and takes on the reproductive responsibilities of the group. Ensuring that the better genes are passed on and that the group will thrive for years to come.
Every other member of the family has an important part to play and will fulfill various duties such as grooming, cleaning, keeping a lookout, and helping rear the young. So even though there is only the Alpha pair that reproduces they are known as cooperative breeders. What this means is that other members of the family will also help raise the young as though it is their own, relieving some pressure from the parents, allowing them to spend more time foraging for food. Dwarf mongooses are selfless in their approach to raising young, I find this special as their main focus is on the success of the whole group rather than each individual, they are only as strong as the weakest member.
As dwarf mongooses roam in search of food this can take them quite a distance from the previous night’s refuge, having a home range that can be up to 1km squared. As a result, they will have many places of refuge within the home range in which they can scurry into or rest for the night. Being such small animals this is vital, in terms of thermoregulation and safety. These refuges consist of old termite mounds or areas around fallen over trees, or within cavities in a tree.
In the early mornings, when the sun rises they don’t take a jump on the day like many other animals but rather enjoy a bit of a sleep in and once they do rise up out of their mound they will sun themselves (warm themselves up) for some time before heading out for their daily activities. Once they set off they will forage for the most part of the day in amongst the grass and leaf litter, searching for mostly invertebrates, but will eat what they can including birds, their chicks, rodents, lizards, scorpions, spiders, and insects.
Mongooses are vulnerable to many other predators, coming in the forms of aerial predators such as eagles, hawks, buzzards, or terrestrial predators such as snakes, jackals, leopards, and monitor lizards. So as they roam they will most likely always have at least two centries looking out for danger, this allows the other to forage carefree. Should danger be seen, the alarm will be given and they will flee to the nearest place of refuge, which is always in sight.
At the end of a day of foraging, they will ensure they arrive at the night’s refuge before the sun sets, allowing them to catch the last few rays to warm up before descending into their resting place for the night. They will all cuddle up and sleep the night through. Repeating the process the following morning.
Dwarf mongooses are seriously impressive animals and live a well-rounded life (if you had to ask me). Next time at Londolozi, take a few minutes to watch these amazing animals going about their business or just catch some sunlight with them to warm yourself up in the morning.