Tag Archives: black mongoose

Mammal Guide of Southern Africa

Over the years many people and institutions have shown a keen interest in our website, particularly in the photos that we’ve included with our blogs.  We’ve had requests from all over the world for our pictures to be used in books, on posters, magazines and as logos for products.  One publishing house in Namibia uses our photos regularly in school text books to show learners the wonders of their beautiful country.  We’re always happy to allow folks to use our photos, but we don’t usually get to see where they have been published.  It was with great delight and appreciation therefore, that we received a copy of Burger Cillie’s latest book – Mammal Guide of Southern Africa – in which three of Rob’s photos featured (two of a Striped Polecat and one of a Black Mongoose).

Book cover

This is an excellent handbook to take into the bush, even if you think you already know all about the animals you are seeing.  It gives comprehensive information about markings, sex, behaviour, distribution, habitats, etc.  But what brings this book into the twenty-first century is that it makes use of advanced technology as many of the photos are able to be scanned by a Callfinder* to play the sound made by a particular animal.  What a valuable tool for identifying those mysterious sounds in the night!  At the moment only about fifty calls can be activated, but as new ones are added, updated versions can be obtained.

Black Mongoose

We have blogged previously about the brilliant Callfinder* and how well it works for identifying bird calls.  If you already own one you will be pleased to hear that you can download the sound track of the Mammal Guide of Southern Africa directly onto your device from the Briza Publication website at a fraction of the cost of a whole new Callfinder*.  We will definitely be doing this to get the full benefit out of our lovely new book.

Striped Polecat

We wish Burger well with his latest book and look forward to seeing many more of his books being published.

Two porcupines and a bottle of red wine

I often wonder if folks who look at photographs of animals and birds have any concept of the patience and endurance required by photographers to get their amazing shots.  Until Rob and I started photographing birds and animals we totally under-estimated the difficulties involved in getting most creatures to sit still for a second, never mind a few minutes while we get our cameras poised and in focus.  We know that birds have an area around their bodies that is their ‘danger or comfort’ zone and if we enter that zone they are off, but animals also seem to have a sixth sense about us wanting to take their photos in the first place and then they make themselves scarce!


It took three years for Rob to get a decent photo of a Bateleur

One thing is for sure, the animal or bird that you are desperately wanting to photograph, will put in an appearance when you are least expecting it and when you are least prepared for it!  The irony is often that people who aren’t keen to see any particular animals or birds, get first class sightings without any effort whatsoever.  I heard a classic story related by a tour guide whilst I was queuing up to enter Kruger National Park.  He said that he had been a guide for 27 years and had always wanted to see an elusive pangolin, when one unexpectedly put in an appearance one afternoon while he was doing a tour.  As these are nocturnal animals and quite rare, he was over the moon – while the tourists wondered what all the fuss was about.  We will feel like he did when we eventually (if we ever) get a photo of an aardvark or a pangolin.

Black mongoose - very rare sighting

A rare animal is very gratifying to photograph

Sometimes the best laid plans for a photo shoot can go horribly awry, although they do have their upside as well.  Take for example our recent quest to photograph a pair of porcupines that make nightly forays to the bottom of a friend’s garden for a meal of left-over veges, pumpkin or watermelon.  We bought an enormous, thick-skinned blue pumpkin to lure them in for a photo-shoot and Trish, our hostess, went to great pains to peg the pumpkin down so that they didn’t carry it off into the night.  She also set up an infra-red and other lights for us and so all we had to do was set up our cameras and wait patiently for the porcupines to put in an appearance.


This fellow was coming in for a meal at Erongo Wilderness Lodge

Fortunately I had the foresight to take along a good bottle of cabinet sauvignon wine to help while away the hours and we settled in for our long wait.  Trish is a good conversationalist and we soon learnt of her incredible life in Madagascar and elsewhere in Africa.  (That’s one of the amazing things about the people you meet in Namibia – they have mostly lead such interesting lives and are widely traveled).

Needless to say, the wine glasses emptied, we mellowed and the porcupines decided to stay away.  At an embarrassingly late hour we took our leave of Trish, went home and settled in to bed, only to receive an sms to say that our guests had finally arrived for their meal.  Damn!!!!  The next day Trish sent us photos of two enormous porcupines dining happily on their blue pumpkin.  (Unfortunately I can’t use these pictures as our policy is only to use our own photographs on this website.)   Disappointing though it was, we will be doubly pleased when we do eventually get the photos that we’re after – and who knows, perhaps it will take a few more bottles of that delicious red wine and good company before that happens.

So next time you see a brilliant animal or bird photograph think about that poor photographer’s liver! (Hic!)

Rob and I would like to wish all our readers a very blessed and merry Christmas.

Namibia’s Largest Endemic Carnivore

On several visits to the Erongo Mountains of Western Namibia we have been fortunate enough to catch a few glimpses of black mongooses, usually as they streak across the road in front of the car in some remote and rocky area. Twice Jane saw a specimen while I was looking the other way and I missed it altogether. But then our luck changed.
A bit of background. The slender mongoose (Galerella sanguinea) and the yellow mongoose (Cynictus penicillata) are fairly common in Namibia and the slender mongoose in particular seems to have adapted well to the presence of humans.
We often see slender mongooses in Windhoek and regularly find them playing on the sports field of the school just a few blocks from where we live. In the northern part of the country the banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) is quite common in the riverine forests and in the woodlands. So mongooses, then, are not a rarity in Namibia.
The black mongoose, though, is something else.
First described some 75 years ago, the black mongoose (G. nigrata) is not a common beast. During the intervening years it has at various times been considered to be a subspecies of the slender mongoose and of the small grey mongoose (G. pulverolenta). In 1993 however, it was given species status within the same family as the slender mongoose.  This made it the largest carnivore that is endemic to Namibia. It is largely restricted to the granite mountains of north-western Namibia and has been quite extensively studied since 2004 under an initiative known as the “Shadow Hunter Research Project”. (You probably don’t know this – unless you are a biologist – but animals that live in rocky habitats are called “petrophilous”. Not a word that you find in everyday conversation.)
Walking through the rather isolated veld near our wilderness campsite on the farm Omandumba, in the Erongo Mountains, we found a little waterhole in the rocks where there were an assortment of birds stopping off to drink. We took a few photos – the exquisite violet-eared and black-faced waxbills were particularly plentiful – and decided to return later in the afternoon in the hope that more birds of different species would visit the spot, and perhaps even some of the animals that are fairly plentiful in the area.
Well, we came back and parked the car in a suitable spot, and within a few minutes a black mongoose came wandering onto the rocks. It glanced round and disappeared after just a few seconds, without approaching the waterhole, but gave us a really good sighting. Brilliant! As I was prepared to take photographs of birds, I had my camera ready and in spite of the short display was able to take a couple of photos. This little animal was not black, but rather a wonderfully deep chestnut. To our untrained eyes it looked very similar to the slender mongoose in all but colour.
We waited another two hours, until dark, convinced that the mongoose would return and perhaps come closer, but it never put in another appearance. Not then and not the next day when we spent another few hours in wait. A troop of baboon spent quite a long time on the rocks above us, watching us watching the birds. But of the mongoose, not a trace.
Aren’t these opportunities fleeting?

The Heroic Mongoose

“He was a mongoose, rather like a little cat in his fur and his tail, but quite like a weasel in his head and his habits. His eyes and the end of his restless nose were pink; he could scratch himself anywhere he pleased, with any leg, front or back, that he chose to use; he could fluff up his tail till it looked like a bottle-brush, and his war-cry, as he scuttled through the long grass, was: ‘Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!'”

Congratulations if you recognized that quote from the short story in “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling, a description of the heroic Rikki-Tikki-Tavi that leads a short while later to the graphic description of the little mongoose’s fight-to-the-death with Nag, the cobra. No prizes for knowing who won! Written well over a hundred years ago, the Jungle Book remains an absolute classic.

The story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is, of course, set in India, but Namibia too has an abundance of mongooses.

We are always interested to see which of our blogs attract the largest number of hits, and one of the most searched items is the humble mongoose!  This is quite surprising as a mongoose is not a  particularly exciting animal to look at, but obviously it generates a lot of interest on the Internet.

These little mammals are quite common in Namibia and we even see them in the grounds of our townhouse complex on the outskirts of Windhoek.  The most common variety in this area is the yellow mongoose, easily distinguished by its light yellowish coloured coat and the white tip on its tail.  They are very shy animals and will scurry away quickly, or duck into whatever shelter is closest, as one approaches   We often see them in pairs when we go on our walks to the nearby Avis Dam.

Yellow Mongoose

Further north at Etosha, in the Caprivi region and on the eastern border of Namibia the banded mongoose is more common, very similar in looks to the slender mongoose, except that it has a number of stripes on its back.

Banded Mongoose

This creature, unlike its cousin the yellow mongoose, prefers woodland and riverine forest as its habitat.  It also breeds during the summer months and has between two and eight young.   The gestation period for all breeds of mongoose is approximately eight weeks.  Their diet consists of lizards, beetles, termites, birds eggs, mice and fruit.

Eggs present no real challenge.and the mongoose will often pick up the egg in its front paws and then slam it  onto a rock or onto the ground to break it open.

Eggs are part of their diet

Eggs are part of their diet

At the Harness Wildlife Foundation we were amused to see dozens of slender mongooses follow the voluntary helpers around at feeding time – it looked like a scene out of  the Pied Piper of Hamelin!

Slender Mongooses at Harness

They are extremely sociable animals and live in groups of twenty or more.

Yellow Mongoose

We unfortunately don’t have photographs of yet another variety of mongoose found in Namibia, namely the black mongoose, due to it’s elusiveness and rarity.  The black mongoose is endemic to Namibia and is found mainly in the Erongo mountains.  Not much is known about this species so a number of scientists are conducting studies on the black mongoose at the moment.  We have seen them on three different occasions, which makes us feel extremely priviliged.

Weekend at Spitzkoppe – Matterhorn of Namibia

Anyone who has traveled from Windhoek to Swakopmund will be familiar with the imposing outline of the Spitzkoppe mountains.  Standing on a flat plain at an altitude of 1728m above sea level, they should be clearly visible.  Often, however, they are shrouded by haze or dust.

The highest peak is 700m and is known locally as =/Gaingu, meaning the last large mountain on the way north (isn’t that quaint!)  It sits proudly alongside other domed mountains called the Pondoks, which is the local vernacular for small rounded huts that are made from branches and cow dung.  Further west lie the Little Spitzkoppe. These granite inselbergs have been eroded over time by wind and weather and shaped into the interesting rocks that so many folks have come to love.


Spitzkoppe is an easy three hour drive from Windhoek and as we’d never camped in the area before we were keen to experience it for ourselves.  We arrived quite late in the afternoon and were a little dismayed to find that all the regular campsites were already occupied.  By regular I mean those campsites that had a 44 gallon drum serving as a dirt bin – there were no other facilities on offer, not even toilets or water, at least that we could see!    We drove around until we found a nice spot right up against an enormous granite mountain – in fact a sheer cliff rose hundreds of meters above us, making our car look quite dinky by comparison.

Campsite at Spitzkoppe

Sunset at Spitzkoppe

Night fell quickly as the sun sank down behind the mountain and it wasn’t long before we were treated to the sight of an enormous orange full moon that made the need for torches quite unnecessary.

Moon over Spitzkoppe

Rob soon had a fire going and we sat chatting about the prospect of seeing new birds the following day.  Our Roberts Bird Guide told us that Herero Chats were endemic to this area and they would be lifers for us.  It’s always exciting to notch up a lifer and to get a photo of one is an added bonus.

We were up early the next morning and after breakfast, we walked a short way from our campsite around the base of the mountain, where we came to a clearing with a thicket of bushes covered in purple tubular flowers.  This turned out to be a magical spot as the flowers attracted the Dusky Sunbirds and there were literally dozens of these lovely little birds flitting from bush to bush drinking in the nectar.  Rob was in his element photographing them and we spent a good hour there totally enthralled at the spectacle before us.

Dusky sunbird

We eventually dragged ourselves away and headed back across the plains to an area called Small Bushman’s Paradise where rock art adorns the faces of enormous boulders.

Along the way we noticed some mountaineers attempting a particularly steep and difficult climb.  The enormity of what they were doing struck us when we saw how small they looked against the rocks meters above us.  This area is a favourite with rock climbers and over the years many have met their fate on these perilous mountains.

Rock climbers

It gets quite hot walking, even in winter, so it’s always a good idea to carry plenty of water and something to eat.  We had lunch in the shade of some big boulders and managed to tick off a pair of Herero Chats, although getting a decent photo of them proved somewhat difficult.  The birdlife in this area is quite magnificent with about 200 different species on the list.  There are also a number of animals to be found, but they made themselves very scarce during our visit and we were out of luck until the following day.

By mid-afternoon we were ready to head back to camp and take a rest.  The campsite offered up no shade at all so it was rather hot inside the rooftop tent.  We did manage to sleep for a bit and were woken rather rudely by birds gathering outside.  I had thrown some breadcrumbs out for them and as we’d taken our cameras up with us, we were able to photograph them from our own ‘bird hide’.  Starlings, Mountain Chats and Hornbills all fought over the scraps of bread as we clicked away happily unseen above them.

Montiero's hornbill

It had been a magnificent day and we’d had plenty of exercise, sunshine and birds to photograph.  Once again the moon gave us a special show as we bid farewell to the day.

We packed up our belongings the next day and drove to all the places that we hadn’t been able to go to on foot.  Our first visit was to the southern part of the area where the boulders were spanned by an enormous natural arch of rock.  From here the Erongo Mountains were clearly visible in the distance.  The guide book told us that there were some old graves on the way to Bushman’s Paradise, but try as we might we couldn’t find them.

We stopped off at a disused water reservoir that was covered with bushes and trees and were delighted to spot a pair of black mongooses.  The black mongoose (Galerella nigrata) is a fairly rare specimen in Namibia and is mainly found in the Erongo mountains.  I had been fortunate enough to spot these elusive creatures on two previous occasions and had a hard time getting Rob to believe that I’d actually seen them!  I was therefore especially pleased when we came across the pair at the reservoir and Rob was able to see them for himself.  They were rather shy though and ducked into the undergrowth and although we waited for a good half hour for them to reappear, they must have been watching us and kept hidden.

From there we moved on to Bushman’s Paradise, on the eastern side of the area.  Here there is a climb up a steep incline, with assistance provided by a thoughtfully placed chain handrail.

Handrail at Bushman's Paradise

From the top it’s a short walk to a rock shelter in which a number of paintings can be found.  This art, believed to have been the handiwork of the San people some 25 000 years ago, was created using extracts from vegetables, blood from animals as well as the urine from dassies (Rock Hyrax) and even Ostrich egg yolks.  It was a sacred area for the nomadic people of old and many of the paintings depict their spiritual practices.  We watched in horror as other visitors placed their hands on the paintings.  This is causing significant damage to these ancient paintings and we wondered why their guide didn’t dissuade them from doing this.  Often visitors wet the paintings to make them clearer to photograph – another reason why they are fading at a faster rate than ever before.

Our time at Spitzkoppe was drawing to an end.  It had been a wonderful weekend and we were happy to take away lots of happy memories of our two days there.  As we drove out we passed the local Spitzkoppe community, who farm the area with goats and cattle.  The area abounds in semi-precious stones and these also form part of their income as visitors are always keen to buy them.

Well worth a visit, we will definitely be going back to Spitzkoppe before we head home to South Africa.