Like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi? You'll Love These African Mongooses!
I read Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book at least 30 times as a kid. This was before the Disney version (gasp!), but I preferred the original stories anyway. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the valiant mongoose who killed massive snakes to protect his adopted human family, was always one of my favorite stories. No matter how often I read the story and despite knowing the ending by heart, I was always terrified of the evil cobras, Nag and Nagaina. They seemed invincible in their awful intelligence and their deadly venom. Come to think of it, that story may have been the origin of my snake phobia - even though the brave little mongoose never failed to kill every snake in the garden.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was an Indian mongoose, but there are many species of mongoose, and we were lucky enough to see a family group of Banded Mongoose on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River in Zambia. We were also lucky to have my husband Tom on board taking photos. Tom did an outstanding job at capturing these excellent mongoose images, don't you think?
The Banded Mongoose usually eat rodents, birds, reptiles, frogs, and insects such as beetles and worms. They also love to eat eggs. All species of Mongoose will fight and kill small snakes, and they all engage in vicious battles with very large snakes if necessary. These small, cuddly-looking mammals often kill the much larger and very venomous snakes when such a battle ensues. They are lightening fast and amazingly smart little carnivores. They know how to evade a striking cobra and avoid a spitting one. They attack without ceasing even as they perform their evasive maneuvers, and eventually they'll chomp down on the snakes head and crush the reptile's skull. They're awesome!
Baby Mongooses! Can you see them? The one on the far right is pretty blurry, but there's another one right in the middle of the adults. How could you not want a little mongoose for a pet? They are so adorable! On the other hand, they are far from domesticated, and it would be pretty risky to approach a band of Banded Mongoose when there are baby mongooses to protect. Remember what I said about the snakes? Well, I doubt you'd have much of a chance against a bunch of these fearless predators if a Mozambique Spitting Cobra can't beat a single mongoose in a (relatively) fair fight!
Here's another look at the little baby mongoose. Even the adults look like stuffed animals. These Mongooses are very close to the bee-eater nests that are located in the holes in the riverbank just above them. Considering the bloody faces of this bunch, however, I tend to doubt they're feeding on eggs at the moment. I hope its frogs or lizards and not the beautiful bee-eaters that are being eaten!
You know, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was an ideal pet. He liked to snuggle and he would ride on the boy's shoulder when he needed to check for snakes in the yard. On the other hand, mongooses are temperamental and capable of doing serious damage with a playful bite or two. They are not legal to own as pets in the US, either.
If I ever live in Africa, though, it seems like a mongoose would be an ideal companion. I don't think carrying one around on my shoulder sounds terribly smart, but what better protection could you get from Puff Adders and Black Mambas than having a mongoose at your side? It's worth thinking about, anyway. Or maybe not. This guy looks more dangerous than delightful!