The wary mongoose

I was introduced to the Indian grey mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi) by Rudyard Kipling’s collection called The Jungle Book. Soon after I saw one scurrying through bushes. Over the years I’ve seen them scuttling around human habitation, while being extremely wary of humans. When I was a child I’d once seen one of them battling a snake. What I remember of that tussle is that it darts about a lot. The common story of it being immune to snake venom is not completely wrong, but its main defense is exactly what I saw, extreme agility. Its stiff gray hair and loose skin is another line of defense against a snake’s fangs. But in all these years, it was only now, sitting inside a hide in the outskirts of Hampi, that I had my best view ever of this secretive animal.

Mongooses are a very diverse group of species. The 33 known species fall into 14 genera within the family Herpestidae. The Indian grey mongoose is in genus Herpestes along with 9 others of its cousins. It is said to be of least concern for conservation purposes. Perhaps because these intelligent and inquisitive creatures have colonized the edgelands and learnt how to utilize the trash left by humans. They are opportunistic eaters, said to eat almost any animal smaller than itself. Here I saw it pluck a banana off a post where it had been kept for birds, and carry it off to one side of the clearing. It was bold when it thought it wasn’t being watched. But as soon as one of my companions snapped off a series of loud shots with a camera, it looked around warily at the noise. We were well hidden, but it still carried its food off under some trees.

But its inquisitiveness kept bringing it back. Its favourite spot was on top of a flat stone where the morning sun illuminated it well and gave me a good opportunity to take lots of photos. It sunned itself, scratched its fur, brushed out its tail with the white patch at the tip, but never settled down to some sunbathing. It is too wary and cautious to sleep in the open. Good for me, I thought, since I managed to take several shots of it in leisurely activity. I like the photo above, with a hind paw raised to scratch itself with.