Common names: Cape grey mongoose, small grey mongoose (Eng.); kleingrysmuishond, Kaapse grysmuishond (Afr.)

The Cape grey mongoose is a small mammal endemic to southern Africa. They are frequently seen darting across the road.

Description/How to recognise a… 

The Cape grey mongoose is a small species that can grow 55–75 cm long and weigh from 0.5 kg to 1.2 kg. Their long, slender body is speckled dark grey with a long bushy tail of up to 20–34 cm long, that are always held close to the ground. Their short legs are darker than the rest of the body. They have pointed muzzles and round ears.  Species in the northwest are darker, almost brown-black. The males are larger than females.

The Cape grey mongoose is sometimes included in the genus Galerella. There are three subspecies, with Herpestes pulverulentus pulverulentus, which occurs throughout the distribution range; Herpestes pulverulentus basuticus, which is found in the higher altitudes of Lesotho and western KwaZulu-Natal; and Herpestes pulverulentus ruddi, which is only found in the extreme northwestern parts of the distribution range.

Getting around

The Cape grey mongoose is essentially terrestrial, but can climb shrubs or trees to catch prey or rest during the day. They are active during the day, in summer from about 06:00 to 20:45, but they are less active in winter. In summer they are not active during the hottest time of the day, but resume activities in the afternoon. The stand on their hind legs to scan for danger or prey.

Communication

Little is known about how the Cape grey mongoose communicate. They are  generally quiet, but do occasionally make sounds.

Distribution 

The Cape grey mongoose is widely distributed, and is endemic to southern Africa. It occurs from southern Namibia to the Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and southern Free State, Northern Lesotho and in the western KwaZulu-Natal into southern Mpumalanga. 

Habitat  

Cape grey mongoose can be found in a variety of habitats from fynbos, to forest and dry Karoo areas with sparse vegetation. They seek shelter beneath vegetation, rocky outcrops, holes in termite heaps and holes made by other animals. They avoid areas with open fields and short vegetation. They are often found near human settlements and are regularly seen along roadsides.

Food 

The Cape grey mongoose have a catholic diet, meaning they are opportunistic feeders that eat a wide range of (mainly) animal and (some) plant material. They mainly prey on small mammals and insects, but their diet also includes carrion, birds, reptiles, amphibians, wild fruits and even garbage.

They have also been observed eating bigger animals such as hares, porcupines and Cape grysbok, which, presumably, were already dead. They sniff on the ground to locate their prey. Insects caught are held down with the front paws, then eaten, and larger prey are stalked before they are secured and several bites are delivered before killing them.

Sex and life cycles

Sex: Breeding season can occur from June to December. Litters of one to three are born from August to February. It is unknown whether the female can have two litters per breeding season. Rock piles and dense vegetation are used as dens where they rear the young. At birth the pups are fully furred, but their eyes and ears are still closed. They remain in the den until they are ready to survive on their own.

Family life: Cape grey mongoose are solitary animals, but are seen in pairs during the mating season. Occasionally groups of up to five individuals have been observed consisting mainly of an adult female with her young and sometimes with another adult.

THE BIG PICTURE 

Friends and foes 

The Cape grey mongoose is prey to leopard, caracal, the black-backed jackal and large birds of prey such as the Martial Eagle.

Smart strategies 

Their catholic diet allows them to adapt easily to whatever prey is available. They are very fast and agile, and have a powerful bite. The claws of their forefeet is not well developed, so they take advantage of holes made by other animals.

They live and take shelter in burrows or dense vegetation that enables them to escape extreme weather conditions and to hide from predators. The Cape grey mongoose picks up eggs with their forefeet and throw it between their hind legs on a hard surface to break the eggs open.

Poorer world without me 

The Cape grey mongoose helps to keep pest species under control as they prey on pest species such as rodents and insects, and is known to kill snakes.

People and I 

Cape grey mongoose are known to take eggs and young domestic chickens that often brings them into conflict with homeowners. They are not immune to venom as popularly believed, but they can kill snakes with their speed and agility.

Conservation status and what the future holds 

This species is listed as Least Concern (LC) because it is a common species and very adaptable. There are no major threats; they are, however, sometimes killed in road collisions and accidentally poisoned on farms when poison are set out for other (pest) animals. They occur in a number of protected areas in its range.

Relatives 

There are ten species in the Herpestes genus that occur in Africa, southern Asia and southern Europe. The Cape grey mongoose is closely related to the slender mongoose, Herpestes sanguinea and can be confused with the large grey mongoose, Herpestes ichneumon. Not all mongoose species fall under the Herpestes genus, such as the yellow mongoose, Cynictis penicillata and the marsh mongoose Atilax paludinosus. The Cape grey mongoose belongs to a carnivore family Herpestidae with about 14 species found in southern Africa.

Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Herpestidae
Genus: Herpestes
Species: H. pulverulentus (Wagner, 1839)

 References and further reading

  • Cavallini, P. 1992. Herpestes pulverulentusMammalian Species, 409: 1–4.
  • Cillié, B. 2009. The mammal guide of southern Africa. Briza, Pretoria
  • Do Linh San, E., Mbatyoti, O.A. et al. 2016. A conservation assessment of Herpestes pulverulentus, in The Red List of mammals of South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. South African National Biodiversity Institute and Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa
  • Gibbons, S. 2014. “Galerella pulverulenta” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed 23 July 2018 at http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Galerella_pulverulenta/

Author: Lize Labuscagne
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden

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