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?