In Our Backyard Environment

The quick, brown mongoose

The Small Indian Mongoose. Photo Courtesy: Sohail Madan

The Small Indian Mongoose. Photo Courtesy: Sohail Madan

We know the Small Indian Mongoose ( Herpestes auropunctatus) well from our mythology and folk tales. Most of us have been told the tale of the mongoose in the Panchatantra protecting a baby from a snake. Unfortunately that story doesn’t end well. Seeing blood on its mouth the parents thinks the mongoose harmed their child and kill the animal.

The Small Indian Mongoose, with its little round ears, is an agile hunter and has a long snout-like face, and short legs that have sharp claws. It has brown or grey-grizzly fur and lives in abandoned burrows or tunnels. Despite the rat-like appearance, mongooses are not rodents.

Though not a domestic animal, it acts as a natural pest controller, feeding on rodents and insects, maintaining their population in a delicate urban ecosystem. Popularly called Newala in Hindi, it is a generalist omnivore mammal that sustains in a variety of habitats, even near human habitations.

The animal is terrestrial and tends to avoid going near water, but does so sometimes to feed on Checkered Keelback and on small Rat Snakes, common non-venomous snakes found near sewage drains in cities. Historically, mongooses are known to fight and kill snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, particularly cobras. They are adept at this due to their speed and agility, sharp teeth and specialised receptors on their skin which make them relatively tolerant to snake venom, though not fully immune.

Wildlife is present even in the densest of cities. While certain species of animals interact with humans on a regular level, there are other species that may want to avoid coming in contact to avoid any kind of human-animal conflict. The Small Indian Mongoose is the latter. On an uneventful quiet day in the city, you might even hear their squawk, bark, or growl-like calls to announce their presence to other animals.

They have a limited prey-base in cities, leading them to behave as opportunistic hunters, hunting rodents that are on the rise due to inefficient garbage disposal. Sometimes they feed on birds and their eggs on trees, as they are excellent climbers. Their hunting prowess is aided by their keen senses of smell, sight and hearing, remarkable agility and reflexes, and the ability to go unnoticed. The young mongoose is often prey for birds like owls, thus maintaining the balance in the food chain. The young and old are also threatened by dogs.

Households these days resort to chemicals to get rid of rats. The use of these is making conditions unfavourable for the mongoose, snakes and owls. Even if not consumed directly, by feeding on rodents that have been exposed to these poisonous chemicals, these natural pest controllers in our backyards are at grave risk. We can reap the benefits of the services these creatures provide so graciously, at not cost whatsoever, if we leave them alone.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme at WWF India.


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Printable version | May 29, 2022 6:47:47 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-quick-brown-mongoose/article29518339.ece