Photo by: Bill Holsten Photography

Mongoose, formerly included in the civet family because of its possession of anal scent glands, the mongoose, Herpestidae, called Eta or Kolokolo in Yoruba, is a family of small, predominantly diurnal carnivorous animals with a greyish or brown fur, long body and face, short legs, small rounded ears and tapered snouts. From one of the several Yoruba Gelede masks, it is evident that reported cooperative relationship between the baboon and the mongoose has been locally observed. The mongoose, about the size of a domestic cat, is also known to be able to stand up even to dangerous snakes. Groups of mongooses emerge from their abandoned termatorial den in the morning to forage mainly on millipedes and beetles with the aid of their long curved non-retractile claws adapted for digging. They retreat while the sun is hot and resume the search for food when it is cool. Asides insects, small mammals, birds, birds eggs, wild fruits, reptiles and crabs are also eaten. Adult weight range from 1-6 kilograms, and their body lengths range between 23-75 centimeters.

A species of mongoose found in the Guinea forest-savannah mosaic of Nigeria, Banded mongoose (Mungos mungo), is distinguished by the dark bands that run horizontally across its back, starting at the base of the neck and continuing all the way down to the beginning of the tail. This sturdy mongoose live in packs, unlike other solitary Mongooses, with as much as 10 to 15 individuals, though larger numbers, up to 50 are found in groups outside Nigeria. They work together in groups to forage and ward off predators, first and foremost protecting their young and elderly. Banded Mongooses from different groups are highly aggressive towards one another. Faeces and pheromonal markings are used as territorial markings. Gestation period in Banded mongoose is for some 60 days afterwhich 2 or 3 pups are produced, some of whom may live for up to 12 years.

Found in the rainforest of Nigeria is the flat-headed Kusimanse species, Crossarchus platycephalus. In contrast to the Banded mongoose, they are known to utilize areas with limited light penetration as habitat. These dwarf, majorly brownish furred mongooses are widespread in the Niger Delta, including the largely deforested lowland zone east of Orashi River of Nigeria. They are quite small, weighing only about 1 kg.

Another species found in Nigeria is the Gambian mongoose, Mungos gambianus, similar to the banded mongoose in appearance but with smaller skulls and teeth. Like the Kusimanse, it is also distinguished from the banded mongoose by the absence of the former’s dark dorsal stripes. This species, weighing about 1.6 kg in the average typically have grey and brown fur on the head, neck and shoulders. They are found in the south-western part of Nigeria where their distribution seem to have been restricted by the eastern barrier formed by the Niger River.

The largest of the mongooses is the White tailed mongoose, Ichneumia albicauda, having feet that are long for a mongoose, which makes it appear hunched and having a white tail. Unlike most members of the mongoose family, it is activities takes place majorly from dusk to dawn. This solitary mongoose may be found about the same vegetational belt in Nigeria as the Banded mongoose.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer