Ecologist - Writer - Photographer

Civil War, Sex, and Mass Eviction....

Portrait of a banded mongoose, Mungos mungo
A recent research paper by Faye Thompson and colleagues (including myself), Reproductive competition triggers mass eviction in cooperative banded mongooses, took me back to a time and place in my past. Working on the paper got me thinking about banded mongooses again...

These days, life is too busy, and my research focus has moved on to pastures new. Post-mongooses, I have conducted behavioural ecology field research on chimpanzee, grey mouse lemur, and social spiders, and in recent years on a variety of large mammals for my work on stress physiology of South African ungulates (including rhino). Even in (hopefully temporary) retirement from field research, I struggle to catch-up with a backlog of research data from these projects that deserve attention. Nevertheless, one never forgets one’s roots. Having spent an intensive part of my life working with the banded mongoose in Uganda, during which I was known as “Mr. Mongoose”, it is always a pleasure to spend some time thinking about (and like) a mongoose again.

Following on from the research paper, The Conversation, for whom I have written several online articles on rhino conservation, asked me to pen an article related to the Reproductive competition triggers mass eviction... paper on the mongooses. This provided an opportunity to reminisce a little bit, in the article Civil war among the mongooses...and why its all about sexual success, and even took me back in time via a quick sortie through my slides to re-scan some mongoose images. As I blew the dust off the slide holder sheets and held them up to a window to try to make out what they were I was taken back twenty years to a world of photography pre-digital. In Uganda, I was shooting with a Canon EOS500N film camera. When I had a visitor from the United Kingdom, I would send them back with slide films to be posted off to the developers in their pre-paid envelopes (with return to my family home in Scotland) and then await news from my brother as to whether any of the photographs were any good. It is hard to believe in the now digital era that such a mechanical process was in place in living memory...Looking back through my photographs in slide format, I am reminded how terrible my photographs were then. Part of my excuse for not having a mass of excellent mongoose images is that I was too busy collecting data on them to be taking photographs. Inevitably, when something really exciting was happening, the last thing I was going to do was to whip out my camera and start shooting slides. My priority was always to get the data, not the photographs. The other part of my excuse, is not really an excuse, it is simply that my knowledge and experience of the craft of photography was not what it is today. Which is a sign of progress (I hope!)

Whilst my photographs from that era are not going to win any awards, they are memory-joggers, reminding me of my experiences of the time and enabling me to visualise them more effectively. There were too many unique experiences to recount here, but my Uganda slide archive photos tell stories of, amongst other things, giant snakes, blind hippos, thieving baboons, and angry elephants...

When I arrived in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda in 1996, I inherited The Banded Mongoose Research Project from Mike Cant, to whom I will always be grateful for his support in settling me in and introducing me to the mongooses. Mike now co-ordinates the continuing Banded Mongoose Research Project all these years later from the University of Exeter. I remain indebted to Mr. Francis Mwanguhya, Miss Emily Otali and Mr. Solomon Kyabulima, whom it was an honour to work with in the field. Their tireless dedication and enthusiasm to the mongooses and the research was of immeasurable value. Francis and Solomon continue to work with the project today – twenty years on!

Even after all these years, we continue to make new discoveries, and to better understand how evolution shapes the natural world about us. Nature remains a never-diminishing cauldron of fascination via the remarkable creatures (mongooses included) that inhabit it.

To view video of the mongooses and our research work with BBC Vets in the Wild (away back in 1999): Vets in the Wild do the mongooses. I was a lot younger and more fashionably dressed back then.

Portrait of a group of banded mongooses

A group of curious banded mongooses (Mungos mungo), Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.

The header image features one of our biggest mongooses, number 17 (click Blog if you cannot see it) chilling out.

To learn more about banded mongooses, and my research, visit Sharing of reproduction and care of young in banded mongooses and Effects of anthropogenic waste disposal on banded mongoose demographics.

It was not all about banded mongooses. We met all sorts of other interesting creatures whilst living life with the mongooses.

Garden elephant

Garden elephant.

Blind hippo

Blind hippo.

Giant forest hog

Giant forest hog.

Sleepy lion

Sleepy lion.

To find out more about Queen Elizabeth National Park, click here.