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Dwarf Mongoose- safty in numbers.

Posted 7.02.2015Comments • You are here: Ranger Diary » General
Did you know the Dwarf Mongoose has the proud title of the smallest carnivore on the African Continent? It is also the carnivore with the highest densities per square kilometre; occurring in packs of up to 15 odd individuals and living a semi-nomadic lifestyle moving from one termite mound to the next in a circular route. This rotation prevents the depletion of food in one area and probably also helps keep pest numbers down in the dens. I am unsure of the size of the territory in the KPNR but I suspect it’s less than the published 34 ha per pack. The Dwarf Mongoose belongs to one of the 4 families in Viverridae. The Viverridae is the largest carnivore family and is notably diverse also including genets and civets.
Dwarf mongoose are a highly social species and have developed the fascinating system of co-operative breeding. Each group consists of a dominant breeding pair, some adults and sub-adults from previous litters and the odd immigrant that has succeeded in joining the group. The alpha pair effectively monopolise the breeding, so that no other individual in the group is permitted to breed, in fact full sexual maturation of the other members in somehow supressed by the dominant pair who will attack members who show sexual behaviour. Perhaps because of this the frustrated Dwarf mongooses spend lots of time at play with lots of body contact.
Four to six young are born to the alpha female who stays with them for the first day only. There- after she goes out foraging with the others returning periodically to check on her young but leaving the bulk of baby- sitting duties to willing members of the pack. She is much larger than the other members and needs to spend a lot of effort foraging both to maintain her bulk and her milk supply. Both male and female mongooses attend to the young and astonishingly adult females are able to produce milk and lactate without ever being pregnant. Babies are carried from den to den as the group moves until they are old enough to keep up at four weeks. The baby-sitters attain rank by fulfilling these duties and later when the young mongooses leave the den to forage, the same members along with the Alpha Male are charged with teaching the youngsters to hunt. They teach by example often catching prey and passing it to the inexperienced babies, who are quick to learn and fully weaned at eight weeks. It appears that the unrelated immigrant members give the pack youngsters the same quality care as related members.
Large groups of Dwarf Mongoose stand a much better chance of survival both from conflict with other groups and from predation and this could be why immigrants are accepted. Members of groups share a tight bond and this is reinforced by continuous contact between the pack members with play and allo-grooming as well as sleeping together in the den cementing the bonds. They mark their territory methodically as they emerge from the den in the morning and each time they change the chosen accommodation for the night.
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