Mongooses are small and slender mammals with short limbs. They typically have brown or grey fur, fluffy tails and can weigh between 300 and 600 grammes.
They were imported to Trinidad on ships from India. Sugar cane planters brought the mongoose hoping they would "contain" the population of snakes and rats in their cane fields. Snakes and rats are key ingredients in the mongoose's diet. Those pests made many labourers sick, and some even died.
The species of mongoose found in Trinidad is the Small Indian Mongoose, whose scientific name is Herpestes auropunctatus. They are closely related to meerkats, like Timon from Lion King. The most famous mongoose is probably Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a character from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book.
Mongooses are carnivorous: they mostly eat meat, and are skilled hunters. Their diet is determined by where they live, or their habitat.
But the mongoose can adapt to most environments, like forests, grasslands, coastal areas and even farms. They eat small mammals like rats and mice, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and some plant matter. They are typically diurnal, which means they sleep at night and are active during the day.
Mongooses are strong opponents for snakes because of their speed and agility. They avoid getting bitten and attack quickly when facing a snake. Better yet, they have a mutation that protects them against snake venom.
While mongooses are known for being aggressive with snakes, they are typically not so when it comes to humans. If cornered or held, the mongoose will try to run or bite. Otherwise, if they are left alone, they should not be considered a direct threat.
If you find a mongoose in your home, be cautious, as it moves very swiftly and may try to bite if necessary to defend itself. Call the Emperor Valley Zoo (622-3530) and the zookeepers can have the animal safely removed.