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Inside the complex and extremely violent world of warring mongooses

Banded mongooses have long been used as a model of animal cooperation. Now, researchers in Uganda are starting to get to grips with the harsh realities of their long-running and bloody battles


30 January 2023

Banded mongoose group approaching with curiosity (Mungos mungo). Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. March 2018.

Banded mongooses live in colonies of between eight and 55 individuals and often start wars with rivals

Anup Shah/getty images

WHEN you first encounter a band of banded mongooses, your initial instinct is to think: “Aww! They are so adorable, so cute, so fluffy.” My first encounter with them was in Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, which is beautiful and thick with wildlife.

I was under the expert eye of Robert Businge, one of the researchers on the Banded Mongoose Research Project based there. Businge located the group with a radio tracker and made a special call: pu-pu-pu-pu-pu. Out of the bushes tumbled seven bundles of chirruping, inquisitive enthusiasm. He checked they were all present and correct, recorded some data, then told me a horror story about beheadings.

The more I learned about banded mongooses, the more I understood just how deceptive appearances can be. They are aggressively violent animals that wage war on neighbouring groups, brutally murdering and maiming their rivals. They ruthlessly expel close relatives from their group and kill them if they won’t leave, commit infanticide – sometimes against their own offspring – and even engage in cannibalism. “Their whole society is built around warmongering,” says project leader Michael Cant at the University of Exeter, UK.

Such brutal, organised violence is unusual in the animal kingdom. I had come to the park to try to see it for myself, watching as the researchers put mongooses on a war footing with their enemies’ faeces and a Bluetooth speaker, and took drone footage to reveal new details about this gruesome behaviour. These experiments …

Source link In the animal kingdom, there is no shortage of competition. For many species, survival of the fittest is a day-to-day struggle that requires sacrifice and dedication to their cause. One of the most formidable competitors in this arena is the mongoose, an omnivorous mammal that lives in parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Mongooses are intelligent creatures and can be found in a variety of habitats; they make their homes in scrub, abandoned termite mounds, and even man-made structures. In many of these habitats, these animals are subject to intense competition and must battle for resources and territory. It is believed that this animosity has led to the development of complex rituals and violent clashes.

Mongooses have evolved to become effective fighters. Their long bodies, equipped with powerful jaws and sharp claws, are formidable weapons in combat. They often rely on ambush tactics, waiting for their prey to be in an weakest and vulnerable position. Additionally, mongooses are skilled climbers and can often use that advantage to outmaneuver an opponent.

However, it is when two mongooses clash that these creatures truly come to life. These highly choreographed skirmishes involve biting, clawing, and even attempts to throw their opponents off balance. The violence even darkens as fights can last over several hours and result in fatalities. In some cases, two groups of mongooses will become locked in a turf war and actively seek out the other side, leaving members of the group vulnerable to attack.

It is no secret that the world of mongoose combat is complex and intensely violent. As it stands, it appears that this battle for territory and resources is a necessary way of life for these apex predators. It is truly a fascinating sight to behold when nature’s fiercest and most adaptable creatures clash in such a dramatic way.

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