Jao Camp is situated on an island in the Okavango Delta. The island is not overly large, perhaps a kilometre in length, and not quite that wide again. Aside from the human occupants of the camp, the island is also home to a troop of banded mongooses.
Living on the island as they do, the mongooses have become quite used to people. This in turn allows guests at the camp the rare opportunity of being able to see the mongooses going about their daily activities without them scampering off to safety.
Banded mongooses are closely related to their more famous cousins, the meerkats, and behave in similar ways. They live in a tightly bonded troop, and they do most things together. On a recent trip I was able to spend a fascinating couple of hours watching and photographing the Jao mongooses.
They are busy animals, and foraging takes up a lot of their time. Banded mongooses dig for much of their food in the form of insect larvae. They are also partial to spiders, frogs and small mammals and will eagerly investigate every crevice and hole that they come across.
A group of youngsters in the troop were quite comical to watch. They were trying their best to find their own food, and emulating the adults’ every move, without success. The adult mongooses take great care of these youngsters, and I was lucky enough to see just how vigilant they were. It was at the end of the day, and all the mongooses had gathered together next to an old, hollowed-out tree trunk that lay on the ground. They were grooming and socializing in preparation for the night. They had just begun to slip inside the tree trunk, one at a time, when suddenly a noise alerted them.
Perhaps 50 metres away, a small flock of starlings had started to alarm loudly. They were warning of the presence of a predator. Without a second’s hesitation, two of the adult mongooses ran straight for the commotion, and passed right by the birds. By the time I reached the scene, the threat, whatever it had been, could not be seen.
The fearless mongooses were sniffing about in a bush, with total disregard for their own safety. After a few minutes, satisfied that the area was safe, they made their way back to the tree trunk and the rest of the troop. The young mongooses then slept safely that night.