by Kamolika Roy Chowdhury
It was a rainy evening in March this year when I heard an excited scream from Jegan who was standing outside our house in Valparai. Even before I could comprehend what was happening, Jegan rushed in and said he had sighted a brown mongoose just outside our house.
When he calmed down, Jegan explained to me that the brown mongoose he had just sighted was endemic to the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, which means it is not found anywhere else at all. Very little is known about its habits and so far the only published photographs have been taken with a camera trap and at night. There are four types of mongooses in the Western Ghats and the brown is the least common. It seems to live in and around rainforest areas.
I had forgotten about this incident until I actually came face to face with it one morning.
It was a warm summer mid-morning and I was standing outside the kitchen door of my house in Valparai, chatting with an old friend on the mobile phone, when I was suddenly distracted by the cacophony of jungle mynas and a Western Ghats Striped Squirrel in the nearby mango tree. They were clearly disturbed by something.
I looked in the direction of this commotion only to find myself being stared at by a creature. It was about eight feet away from me with a furry brown coat and a conspicuously bushy tail. It took a few moments to gather my wits and realise that the creature was nothing but a brown mongoose!
Without wasting time, I fetched the camera and clicked some pictures of it.
The animal had apparently come to the garbage pit (dug outside our kitchen for disposing vegetable waste) in search of food and found itself the centre of attention from mynas and squirrels! The mongoose made several patient but futile attempts to enter the pit but unfortunately it was not to be.
The mynas mobbed it continuously compelling the mongoose to run and take cover, only to defy the birds and return to the pit. This was repeated several times before the mongoose finally called off its pursuit and returned to the bushes from where it had emerged. Its defiant approach made it clear that food was on its list of priorities that morning. The entire episode lasted for about 10-15 minutes and all the while the mongoose, though aware of me, chose to ignore my presence.
After this, I chanced upon the brown mongoose again a few days later near the same garbage pit. However, contrary to the previous encounter, it didn’t retain its boldness and fled at my appearance.
My most recent encounter with the mongoose was most interesting. It was not alone but with a younger member from its family, a baby mongoose! In this context, let me tell you the earlier garbage pit had got filled and we had to dig a new one. The window of one of our rooms overlooks this new pit.
Jegan and I were at the window one morning at about 8 a.m. when he suddenly stopped speaking and pointed towards the garbage pit. Looking in the direction, I sighted two mongooses. I suppressed an excited squeal when I saw that it was the brown mongoose accompanied by its baby, a miniature version of itsself. The baby followed its mother and its puzzled movements and unsure steps indicated that it was still in training. Mother and baby were out to explore the new garbage pit, though it didn’t appear very promising. After a quick peep into the pit, mother signalled to the baby to move on and we both watched on till they disappeared quietly into the bushes. Or perhaps, the mother just decided to play safe.
Enchanting, but the briefness of this encounter didn’t allow us to take any photos of this rare sighting. Later, it occurred to me that the bold disposition on the part of the adult mongoose on our first encounter could have possibly been because of the hungry baby in its burrow.
Photo credit: Kamolika Roy Chowdhury