Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mini Mammals

Amongst the smaller mammals in southern Africa, the mongoose is distinct with its elongated body, pointed features and brisk scurrying gait.

Share the Mongoose Dilemma - what is the plural of mongoose?

Amongst the 11 species indigenous to southern Africa, I've only "met" the Banded Mongoose so far during tours in Namibia and Botswana. We recently encountered a family in the Chobe National Park, scuttling around for food.

The mongoose-diet mainly consists of invertebrates, especially beetles and termites, and sometimes rodents and snakes. Mongoose will eat fruit when available, and eggs - which they fling with their hind legs against solid objects (e.g. stones/rocks) to smash the shell so as to lap up the contents.

Whilst the first 2 photos are of Banded Mongoose we encountered in Botswana, we also "met" these small carnivores in the Etosha Park (Namibia) during the same tour. Mongoose (mongooses??) live in cohesive packs (also called "mobs") between 6 and 40 individuals.

Whilst some mongoose "love" standing upright (see photo above), others "spread" flat on the ground (photo left). Mongoose tend to hole up in disused termite mounds or in underground burrows.

For some "variety", I'm adding one of my (many) photos (right) of what we call a "meerkat" in South Africa (= suricate = a member of the mongoose family). These cute little mammals are very territorial and will fiercely defend their home from other meerkat gangs - at least one mongoose always stands guard, also to look out for predators.

Did you know that the dark eye-markings of these mongoose act like "built-in sunglasses"?

The Dwarf Mongoose (right) is - as its name suggests - the smallest of the mongoose family. Although this photo is part of my photo-collection, it was taken by our son-in-law, Quinton, during a family outing to the Kruger National Park a couple of years ago. It's such a gorgeous close-up photo that I feel compelled to add it today.

Diverting to another species now, the cute little Tree Squirrel (right) is primarily a vegetarian, but being a rodent, it also preys on insects. The Tree Squirrel is one of 3 indigenous species (although a 4th one, the Grey Squirrel, exists in the Cape Town area; it was introduced from Europe many years ago). The Tree Squirrel (as its name suggests) always retreats to trees when alarmed, but spends much time on the ground foraging for food.

Like the Banded Mongoose (see photo above), Tree Squirrels tend to "spread flat" on the ground (left) - an endearing habit when not feeling alarmed - which I certainly appreciated so I could take this photo. Tree Squirrels use their forefeet to manipulate food items whilst feeding, and live in territorial family groups, which nest in tree holes.

The Ground Squirrel is also predominantly herbivorous, feeding mainly on roots and bulbs, but occasionally "snacks" on termites, all of which it excavates with its claws and front teeth. As is "demonstrated" on the photo (left), the Ground Squirrel uses its tail as a "sunshade" - holding it in a bent position over its back whilst feeding.

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