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The curious "little devil" - Small Asian Mongoose

Green Country Vol. 116 (Oct 2015)

Mammals in the wild are generally hard to observe. They typically run away as soon as they are spotted. Small Asian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) is an exception. Mongooses are born curious, and instead of fleeing, they may stay and watch closely when they encounter people.

Herpestidae is a small carnivore that looks somewhat like a fox with small ears. Many species will stand on their hind legs to observe the environment, such as Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) that often appear in animated movies. In China, there are two Herpestidae species, both of which have been recorded in Hong Kong, including Small Asian Mongoose.

Small Asian Mongoose earns its Chinese name from the reddish brown cheeks. It has brown fur and a fluffy tail that is almost the length of its body. Although its body and tail add up to over half a metre, it has short limbs and can easily escape danger by dashing into holes. It lives in wetlands and open scrub, and is active in the daytime. Hence it is among the more easily spotted local mammals.

Small Asian Mongoose may look short and cute but it is an expert hunter! Its prey includes insects, bird eggs, rats, frogs, lizards, venomous snakes and centipedes, and even the largest viper in the world—King Cobra (Ophiophagus hanna). Small Asian Mongoose will go around the cobra as it keeps attacking. It may seem the mongoose is losing, but its fluffy hair prevents the snake fangs from making direct contact with its body. Some research even indicates that it contains antibodies to some venom. The little mammal is trapping the cobra—it is looking for the right timing to bite its head, while the cobra spends all its energy attacking.

Little Devils on the islands

In the 1970s, Small Asian Mongooses were widely introduced from Southeast Asia to the islands on the Pacific and Central America due to their ability to hunting snakes and rats. However, their adaptability allows them to occupy the local habitats and become "little devils" on these islands. For instance, Bar-winged Rail (Hypotaenidia poeciloptera), an endemic and flightless species on Fijian islands, was hunted to extinction by the exotic species.

Today, Small Asian Mongoose has been listed among the 100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species, posing threats to Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) of the Caribbean Islands and endemic birds of Hawaii. The harm to local biodiversity by exotic species cannot be underestimated. These little mammals bring problems for residents of remote islands, yet are themselves threatened in Hong Kong due to habitat destruction and pollution.

Text︱Peggy Chung

Image
©Henry Lui
Image
©Peggy Chung
Small Asian Mongoose earns its Chinese name from the reddish brown cheeks.
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The venomous Bamboo Snake (Cryptelytrops albolabris) is also prey of Small Asian Mongoose.
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The image of Meerkats standing on their hind legs often appears in animated movies.
Image "Meerkats" by "Michelle Bender" is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Image
©Peggy Chung
The curious creature keeps looking back at the camera as it runs away.

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