While I waited for bears inside a hide in the Daroji Bear Sanctuary, a ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii) put in an appearance. I’ve only had fleeting glimpses of this furtive creature before: I can tell its colour from that of the more common grey mongoose, and I know that failing everything, one can tell it by its black-tipped tail. It is one of several species of mongoose which are found in the forests of India. IUCN classes it as being of least concern for conservation action because of “presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining at nearly the rate required to qualify for listing in a threatened category. The impacts of habitat loss and degradation and hunting on populations are not precisely known…” (the emphases are mine). Given the great boom in wildlife tourism in India, I’m surprised that there is so little support for wildlife science. There is neither money nor manpower to make estimates of the number of these animals left in our shrinking jungles. In general, small carnivores of India are barely studied.
This was the best opportunity that I’ve had to look at the behaviour of the ruddy mongoose in the wild. It seems to forage with its attention close to the ground in front of it, as you can see in the little video clip here. It spent a long time in hiding under a large boulder before it stepped into the open. I could not see it, and do not know whether it scanned a large area before setting out on a foraging trip. It has good vision and hearing, and perhaps a good sense of smell too. It dug between boulders and found things to eat. Going by the places it picked food from, it was eating small things, perhaps insects, perhaps organic matter trapped in little fissures in the granite. I wish I knew.
A ten year old phylogenetic study by six scientists from France and New Zealand concluded that mongooses differentiated about 22 million years ago, and the Asian species diverged from the rest about 15 million years ago. Genetic studies can be carried out from a very few specimens. Field studies require money and manpower. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the life expectancy of a ruddy mongoose in the wild, no study of breeding seasons and litter size (the IUCN site claims that sexual maturity is reached between the ages of 4 and 5 years), no consensus about whether it is diurnal or nocturnal (I’ve only ever seen it during the day), its diet is unknown, its main predators are not known. It is a cipher.