BBC Wildlife Magazine
Cat among the mongooses causes a commotion
When you’re observing wild mammals, it’s hard not to get attached to individuals, as Emily Richens discovered.
Spending six months studying dwarf mongooses in the South African bushveld for my behavioural ecology degree, I was bound to encounter interesting wildlife.
During my fieldwork in Limpopo province, I witnessed stand-offs between mongooses and Mozambique spitting cobras, and violent territorial disputes between groups. But by far the biggest drama occurred, rather fittingly, on my final day.
I was with ‘Bookworms’, one of the largest and longest-standing families habituated for the dwarf mongoose research project that was started in 2011 by a University of Bristol student. This particular group included my firm favourites, charismatic juveniles Benny and Rumple.
While I was busy recording the GPS location, a sudden uproar caught my attention as hornbills and drongos flew out of the trees in alarm. I dashed towards the tumult to see a serval (wild cat) with a mongoose in its claws and my heart skipped a beat when I realised it was Rumple.
When it saw me, the serval turned tail and the 21 ‘gooses’ vanished. I searched frantically for the family, eventually relocating them at their termite-mound burrow.
Moving with extreme caution and military efficiency, they crossed their territory to settle in safer quarters. As I followed, I carefully counted each individual several times, and soon discovered that poor Rumple was gone.
Until that moment, I hadn’t realised how attached I had become to these wild mammals. As a zoologist, I understand the balance of nature – I would record absent individuals, noting ‘assumed predated’ – but mongooses are endearing creatures, especially when you’re studying them for 12 hours a day.
I was saddened to see one of ‘my own’ at the receiving end of an attack. At the burrow, I watched the last individual go down for the night and reflected on my time as a ‘gooser.’ I hadn’t simply been observing these mammals for the past few months, I’d become consumed by their personal lives.
After I returned home to the UK, I was surprised and relieved to learn that Rumple had turned up. Perhaps it’s not just cats that have nine lives.
S A sudden uproar caught my attention as hornbills and drongos flew in alarm. T