After a couple of days travel along what seems to be the bumpiest of highways we finally made it to Mweya in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. We can now get down to the serious business of observing banded mongooses (Mungos mungo). This is my first ever visit to the mongooses and should hopefully give me more of an understanding and appreciation of their unusual social behaviours in order to aid my research in prenatal investment and potential female conflict. It will also allow me to see all the hard work done by our field team to find them and collect all that data!
Banded mongooses are small, social carnivores weighing up to 2kg and grow up to 68cm. What makes banded mongooses really interesting is that in their social packs ranging from 6-40 individuals, most of the females in the group will breed in synchrony on the same day. It is thought that as all the pups are cared for by the group as a whole, it pays for the younger and more subordinate females to breed when the older and more dominant females do in order to avoid infanticide from the dominant females. The pups will also each follow one adult closely (called their ‘escort’) to maximise their individual protection and provisioning. They will remain with the pack into adulthood helping to rear the next generations.
The 8 packs of banded mongooses that live on Mweya peninsula are being studied continuously. We are monitoring how they interact with one and another to help us understand more about the evolution of their unusual and highly cooperative behaviour. In turn we hope to understand how this may reflect our own cooperative behaviours.
Getting around the scrub savanna is no easy task and is not made easier with the recent storms that have been blowing through (although this is good news for the area and the mongooses as they have been suffering from a prolonged drought).
So far I have been out with the morning and evening weigh ins and checking all mongooses are present as well as helping with individual focals which involve following the group around whilst they forage and recording what your particular individual is doing and who are they most closely associating with.
Finally, we manage to track down pack 15, a small group of 6 individuals and although they were a bit shy they were easily encouraged to jump on top of some. Next up were packs on the other side of the peninsula was 1H, 17, 4B and 7A. These packs are more friendly; 1H came running up to our vehicle and once we were stopped they were giving our vehicle a thorough check over from underneath.
It is very clear that the mongooses know the process so well that while we are preoccupied with weighing or stopping one individual from investigating equipment some individuals (if not all) decided that it is all far too interesting not to investigate!