RESEARCH: War in the Banded Mongoose colony

The Mongoose is a solitary mammal, but not the Banded Mongoose which lives in a colony of about 20 individuals, and up to 55 individuals. The colony lives underground in burrows, called dens.

The Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo) is a small carnivorous mammal found in central and eastern Africa – and is related to the Meerkat.

Robert Businge, a researcher in the Banded Mongoose Research Project in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda (established in 1995), says the colony is extremely violent and warmongering. ‘They are aggressively violent animals that wage war on neighbouring colonies.’ They are also violent towards each other in their own colony. He added, ‘They brutally murder and maim their rivals, and they also expel close relatives from their group, and will kill them if they don’t leave.’

Banded Mongoose

The project leader, Michael Cant, from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, said that the Banded Mongoose uses structured, organized violence. The project research staff are tracking 10 mongoose colonies with a total of about 250 individuals. ‘We are trying to understand why they are so violent and why they evict members from their own group.’

‘Males do the fighting when they fight other colonies,’ says Robert Businge. ‘Death is very rare when they fight, but there are lots of injuries.’ Less than 1% of adult males die in battle, but they have lots of wars.

The project has logged 579 wars with their neighbours, which the staff think is a small fraction of the real number. The researchers think there are many reasons to declare war. However, 417 (72%) out of the 579 wars did not involve females, so the reasons are not to do with mating and relationships. The wars were about status, territory, genocide, and resources.

The males of one colony target young individuals from another colony. Around 20% of all pup deaths are caused by war. Female pups are killed twice more than male pups during war.

Robert Businge says that a colony can estimate the strength of its enemy colony before the war starts – maybe due to footprints or their smell. If one group has more individuals than the other, it will attack. If not, it will retreat. A war can be 10-20 minutes or an hour and more, until one side backs down.

The researchers use GPS collars to track individuals, as well as drones. The project team plans to continue tracking the Banded Mongoose. They want to understand more about mongoose wars between colonies, and also learn more about evictions of individuals within each colony.

The work of the Banded Mongoose Research Project was reported in New Scientist in January 2023.

Banded Mongoose
Banded Mongoose
Banded Mongoose

Location of photographs: Kenya

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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