Indian Grey Mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii)
Mammals, my mammals, it has been so very long since I have seen you, or at least since you have seen me. Life is hard, and also this website was hacked. Many months (or perhaps more than a year: I don’t dare actually look) have passed, and now I have a new web host (Brownrice Internet, highly recommended), a website that will not attack you, and a renewed commitment to my giant project, the Daily Mammal. Thank you for being here, and thank you for your patience with me, if you indeed have any. I have some ideas for this enterprise, some things I’d like to try, but the most important thing is just to meet the mammals, so let’s go!
Today’s mammal is the Indian grey mongoose. It’s native to parts of the Middle East and southern Asia, and it has been introduced to Japan. The Indian grey mongoose is quite common, not at all endangered, and seems to do well in areas where humans live. It’s a toughie, the Indian grey mongoose. It doesn’t mind scorpions and it doesn’t mind snakes. In fact, it happily kills and eats the king cobra, a huge, venomous snake. Watch this video from National Geographic:
The mongoose is able to dart and parry until the cobra finally wears out in a version of wildlife rope-a-dope. These battles were first described in the 19th century. Rudyard Kipling, of course, immortalized the mongoose’s snake-killing abilities in his story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” which was published as part of The Jungle Book in 1894. In Living Mammals of the World, my beloved Ivan T. Sanderson writes,
“Enormously agile animals, they do, it appears, actually make a practice of killing snakes. They are not, however, immune to the bites of poisonous snakes, nor do they use any herb as a natural antidote if struck; their almost complete immunity stems from their speed and inborn knowledge of serpentine behavior. When confronting a snake, they deliberately induce it to strike and when it does so step smartly aside and then pounce on its head from above, cracking the skull with one bite. A large King Cobra can often withstand the first bite and throw the little animal off its head by suddenly recoiling but the Mongoose lands on all fours and calmly awaits its next lunge. Non-poisonous, constricting snakes have sometimes defeated a mongoose by throwing a coil or two round the lower belly and banging them about so fast that they do not have time to bite through the snake’s long muscles.”
How horrific the animal world can be, with its cracking of skulls and banging about of small, furry bodies.
Donovan used Rikki-Tikki-Tavi to discuss the importance of fighting one’s own battles. In his Donovan way, he says, “When I was a young man I was led to believe there were organizations to kill my snakes for me, i.e., the church, i.e., the government, i.e., the school. But when I got a little older I learned how to kill them myself.” (I think he should have used e.g.) Here’s the song.
A much more metallic band, Fair to Midland (whose name is probably a pun on the name of my hometown), also has a song about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. I doubt they would like to be compared to Donovan, but I think they’re making a similar point when they say “Rikki Tikki, Rikki Tikki, Rikki Tikki Tavi, there are snakes in the grass, so we better go hunting.” Here they are with their mongoose tune.