While guiding guests around the bush when the “big game” is plentiful is relatively easy, as let’s face it that is what the majority of people travelling half way across the world come to see, our glorious African Elephants and Cape Buffalo, the awe inspiring predators and tall and elegant Giraffe, to name some. But sometimes no matter how hard us guides try to find these magnificent beasts, they are not always compliant, grazing or browsing within easy access just for us to see. The lion calling during breakfast urging us all to scrambled into vehicles and dashed out in search of it, has now stopped!! And we are now left driving around hoping to catch a glimpse of it.
In these situations, we have to find something else to interest the now disgruntled guests who left half their breakfast going cold on their plates back in camp as they dashed out in search of the creature calling so seductively earlier. We point out the huge Marshall Eagle wheeling about in the sky overhead as it searches for its own breakfast, or the gracefully grazing herds of Zebra and Impala, with their little ones prancing and dashing in amoungst theirs mums legs as they enjoy being alive. But these don’t do the job of placating them. And then we hit gold!!!
Driving past a huge fallen tree I spot a little brown head pop up and disappear again, then another and another. We switch off the engine and sit as still and quiet as possible, the guests not terribly sure what we have stopped for yet. Then as the silence stretches out the curiosity of the residents of the fallen log gets the best of them and one, two, three, six, ten little brown pointy faces pop out of various holes in the log. The braver of the family stick their shoulders out and finally emerge completely revealing the Dwarf Mongoose!! I have come to appreciate these little creatures, they delight even the most grumpy guests. As we sit still and as quiet as possible for a bunch of excited humans being entertained by the little brown mongooses in front of us, more and more appear until we count about 20. This is Africa’s smallest carnivore which lives in social groups in old termite mounds, fallen trees and thickets. They are strictly diurnal and start and end their day by sunbathing and socializing.
They relax slightly in our presence, although there is always the look out who keeps an eye on their surroundings, ready to issue a call of warning should danger approach. They begin grooming each other and scratching the dust and mites from their coats, rubbing their long bodies along the log for a good rub. Little jaws full of sharp teeth yawn wide, while a little ‘peep peep’ is heard constantly from different members of the group. Little ones tumble around play fighting each other, and generally disturbing the adults early morning routine. Suddenly we are aware that the peeping as turned to a ‘churring’ sound and as if as one they leap of the log and move off into the grass to start the foraging for the day. They scratch around in the dirt like chickens, looking for bugs, lizards, scorpions, baby mice and anything else they might fancy. Although they search in a group, each mongoose forages for itself and will defend its tasty treasure fiercely, but all keep in contact with constant vocalization.
The pack is led by a dominant pair, they are the only members that breed, and the offspring are cooperatively looked after by the pack. The dominant female leads the pack while the dominant male is in charge of pack security. Some mongoose families have formed symbiotic relationships with birds, such as the Fork Tailed Drongo, who will act as look outs for the creatures and who are rewarded with the insects that the pack dislodge while foraging.
We sit enthralled by these little creatures, while they kick up dust, interacting with each other, the youngsters easily spotted in the pack as they seem to cause the most havoc! Slowly they disappear in to the grass and just their little peep peeps are heard until those also disappear from hearing.