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Herpestids in European Zoological Gardens

Yellow mongoose, (Cynictis penicillata), ZSL London Zoo, United Kingdom (photo: Christian)Taxonomic Overview

Currently there are 34 species of mongooses described in the family Herpestidae, although further taxonomic research may change this number in the future. Twenty-five members of the taxon live in Africa and nine in Asia. According to the current subdivision of Herpestidae ― using not only morphology, but also behavioural ecology and molecular markers ― two subfamilies are supported within the taxon. The subfamily Herpestinae involves 23, mostly large and solitary mongoose species (genus Atilax, Bdeogale, Cynictis, Galerella, Herpestes, Ichneumia, Paracynictis, Rhynchogale, Xenogale), while the subfamily Mungotinae comprises 11, mainly small and social species (genus Crossarchus, Dologale, Helogale, Liberiictis, Mungos, Suricata). Nevertheless, we have to admit that generally not much is known about the social behaviour of many of the species, especially the Asian mongooses.

Current Situation of Mongoose Species Kept in European Institutions

A relatively diverse herpestid collection exists in the region at present. Eleven species can be found in European zoological gardens as listed below in Table 1. The meerkat is the „absolute favourite”; its media-related success (The Lion King, Meerkat Manor) makes it one of the most popular zoo animals among visitors. Behind the meerkat, though at a much lower degree, three other species ― yellow, banded and common dwarf mongoose ― also seem to be abundant in zoological parks.

Slender-tailed meerkat, (Suricata suricatta), ZSL London Zoo, United Kingdom (photo: Christian) Banded mongoose, (Mungos mungo), Nyiregyhaza Zoo, Hungary (photo: Christian)

Table 1. Collection of herpestids currently being kept in European zoological gardens, the data about the number of institutions are according to ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System)

Herpestid species

Number of European institutions keeping the species

ZIMS/ISIS data

Estimated data

Slender-tailed meerkat, Suricata suricatta

216

~350*

Yellow mongoose, Cynictis penicillata

54

~80*

Banded mongoose, Mungos mungo

47

~80*

Common dwarf mongoose, Helogale parvula

41

~55*

Common cusimanse, Crossarchus obscurus

12

~17

Common slender mongoose, Galerella sanguinea

3

~4

Egyptian mongoose, Herpestes ichneumon

1

~6*

Gambian mongoose, Mungos gambianus

1

~1

Marsh mongoose, Atilax paludinosus

1

~1?

White-tailed mongoose, Ichneumia albicauda

1

~2*

Indian Grey mongoose, Herpestes edwardsii

1

~3*

* including institutions that are not located in Europe but are members of EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria)

The population of common cusimanse is increasing as well, particularly in the United Kingdom. The other taxa ― Egyptian, marsh, white-tailed and Indian grey mongooses ― are extremely rare to be found in captivity and there are only a few locations known to be exhibiting them: usually most of these animals are the last specimens of their kind left in the given collections, although there are some exceptions, too.

It is worth mentioning that some European institutions still wish to acquire new, previously not exhibited species for their collections. Two taxa ― the Gambian mongoose and the common slender mongoose ― are relatively new inhabitants in Europe: the Gambian species was imported from Africa by Zoo Zlin (Czech Republic) on two occasions in 2008 and 2010, and slender mongooses were brought from Tanzania by Prague Zoo (Czech Republic) in 2009.

Common slender mongoose, (Galerella sanguinea), bright red morph, Prague Zoo, Czech Republic (photo: Christian) Common slender mongoose, (Galerella sanguinea), dark morph, Plzen Zoo, Czech Republic (photo credit: Anita Mazács)

Biology of the Species and its Influence on Collection Planning

Despite a lot of studies that had tried to investigate which factors (body size, behaviour or activity of the animals, displaying exotic or native species, etc.) make a popular zoo exhibit, the most we can probably say is that we still have little idea on that.

Nevertheless, we can easily find some important similaritiesregarding the most frequently exhibited species: meerkats, banded and dwarf mongooses live in cohesive groups and their diurnal activity includes many interesting elements of social behaviour which can be very attractive for visitors. Yellow mongooses are solitary foragers but we can probably classify them as semisocial since many individuals spend the nights in communal burrows and cooperate in raising their young as well. Furthermore, these taxa have some additional morphological characteristics that make them „special” for the public: banded mongooses and meerkats have dark bands across the back from the shoulders to the base of the tail in contrast with the mostly homogenous brown and grey coat colour that is typical of most of the herpestids. Yellow mongooses also have an unusual and intense coat colour.

It is also very interesting to point out a significant difference between the number of European and North American zoos with herpestid species: only three species ― meerkats, banded and common dwarf mongooses ― are on public display in the North American region and the number of institutions keeping these species is also much lower than in Europe.

Therefore, it seems to be true that zoo managements mostly prefer exhibiting social mongooses with any kind of „special appearance” to solitary species.

Common cusimanses, (Crossarchus obscurus), Marwell Wildlife, United Kingdom (photo: Christian) Gambian mongoose, (Mungos gambianus), Zoo Zlin, Czech Republic (photo: Christian)

Conservation Status

Most herpestids have never been studied by scientists in their natural distribution area; therefore little information makes it difficult to assess the extinction risks for most of the species accurately. Mongooses were recently assessed for the IUCN Red List in 2008. The majority of the herpestids are currently listed as Least Concern, only the Liberian mongoose (Liberiictis kuhni), Indian brown mongoose (Herpestes fuscus) and Sokoke bushy-tailed mongoose (Bdeogale crassicauda omnivora) are classified as Vulnerable.

A live specimen of Liberian mongoose was captured by an expedition organized by the Royal Ontario Museum and Toronto Zoo in 1989 and this male lived in the mentioned zoo from 1989 to 1993.

It is also worth mentioning that two „mongoose-like” members of Eupleridae ― the ring-tailed mongoose or ring-tailed vontsira (Galidia elegans) and the narrow-striped mongoose or narrow-striped boky (Mungotictis decemlineata) ― can also be found in European zoological gardens, and the latter one is listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable.

References

GILCHRIST, J. S., JENNINGS, A. P., VERON, G. & CAVALLINI,  P. (2009). Family Herpestidae (Mongooses). Pp. 262-328 in: WILSON, D. E. & MITTERMEIER, R. A. eds. (2009). Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Vol. 1. Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

www.iucnredlist.org

www.zims.isis.org

 

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