Mammalian carnivores are sometimes called carnivorans to distinguish them from other meat-eating taxonomic groups like birds of prey, which eat meat, but are not classified by zoologists/taxonomists as carnivores in the context of biological classification. To confuse matters more, some carnivorans eats meat and also consume vegetable matter (i.e., vegetation) making them omnivorous carnivorans. Others, like giant panda, are almost strictly herbivorous. Among the carnivorans there are two distinct groups---the caniform or dog-like carnivorans and the feliform or cat-like carnivorans. All are members of the Order Carnivora, which is comprised of more than 280 placental mammal species.

One diverse group of African (and Eurasian) carnivorans is the mongoose family. Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book introduced millions of people to the mongoose, and specifically the Indian gray mongoose, through his depiction of the character Rikki-tikki-tavi. 

Although imported to the Western Hemisphere, the mongoose is represented by a taxonomic group of 34 species in total.  Mongooses or herpestids, as they referred to scientifically, are more closely related to feliform carnivorans (e.g., cats, civets and hyenas, etc.) than to caniform carnivorans (e.g., canids, bears, weasel-like species, etc.). 

Mongooses are relatively small carnivores ranging in size from Africa's 11 ounce common dwarf mongoose to the continent's 11 lb. white-tailed mongoose. One common and relatively large mongoose species is the marsh or water mongoose. Unlike its cousin, the meerkat of South Africa, a well known and highly social species of mongoose, the water mongoose is very solitary and spends a lot of time in or near water.  They love to feed on small vertebrates and invertebrates inhabiting swampy or marshy habitats.  They weigh up to 9 lbs compared to the 2 lb meerkat, and like most mongooses they have a voracious appetite.

Although we certainly don't encourage keeping wildlife as pets, some lesser known African wildlife species like the water mongoose are raised and cared for as pets.  They are found all over sub-Saharan Africa and are not particularly conservation-sensitive. The water mongoose can live almost 20 years in captivity.

Here is a link to stock footage of a water mongoose filmed during a night safari in our neck of the woods:

Click to See Photo of a Water Mongoose in South Luangwa

For more information on the water mongoose, please visit this resource:

Dr. Jordan Schaul is a board member of NWCF and a former contributor to National Geographic’s editorial news publication News Watch: