Animals of Africa: Dwarf Mongoose Groups are Ruled by Leading Ladies

August 20, 2012
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Travelers on International Expeditions’ Kenya and Tanzania safaris should keep one eye on the ground to catch a glimpse of the dwarf mongoose. This species of mongoose is the smallest in Africa, and one of the few types that travel in groups. Each group is led by a matriarch, and this female is the only member of the family allowed to breed.

Dwarf mongoose hierarchy places the youngest members of the group as the second most important members of the family. Older mongooses help look after the young and keep them fed. When the young are not being cared for by their elders, some are chosen to stand watch at the entrance of the termite mounds in which these creatures make their homes. The young guards are accompanied by the alpha male as they watch for predators and other signs of danger.

Dwarf mongooses are diurnal, so you may see them on your small-group game drives. Members of dwarf mongoose families that are not caring for young or keeping an eye out for danger have the task of collecting food for the others. Their diet consists of small rodents, birds and reptiles, but they have also been known to eat insects and fruit. In fact, a healthy appetite for termites helps them clear out termite mounds and claim them as their own homes.

Dwarf mongooses may be the smallest, but they are not the only species of mongoose in East Africa. There are also slender mongooses, marsh mongooses, banded mongooses and white-tailed mongooses among others prowling the land. The dwarf mongooses stand out from the rest mainly because of their diminutive stature. On average, a fully grown dwarf mongoose grows to be about 14 inches long. They have reddish-brown fur, pointed noses and long, fluffy tails.

These creatures rely on one another for survival, and they communicate with a series of whistles and twitters. They are very talkative and you may be able to hear them before you see one of the guards' heads pop up from out of a termite mound.