Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon)

Also known as: ichneumon, large grey mongoose
French: Mangouste Ichneumon
Spanish: Meloncillo
GenusHerpestes (1)
SizeTotal length: 90 - 107 cm (2)
Tail length: 36 - 46 cm (2)
Weight1.9 - 4 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A short-legged carnivore with a long body (2), the Egyptian mongoose often looks like a reptile when seen from a distance, as it moves with a gliding gait (3), with its head held low and its long tail extended with the tip curled forward (4). The Egyptian mongoose has a shaggy, grizzled grey coat with bands of dark and pale hair (2), paler underparts and blackish feet (2). The sharply-pointed muzzle is black, the ears are small and rounded, and the long, wedge-shaped tail has a conspicuous tuft of black hairs at the tip (2). The male Egyptian mongoose is significantly larger than the female (5).

The Egyptian mongoose occurs through much of sub-Saharan Africa, except for the Congo Basin and a large portion of the southwest (1) (2). Its range also stretches from Sudan and Egypt through the Sinai Peninsula to Turkey, and it has been introduced to Spain and Portugal (1).

The Egyptian mongoose favours habitats with dense vegetation and a good water supply, such as near streams, rivers, swamps, and agricultural land (1) (2) (4). It avoids humid forests and desert (1).

The Egyptian mongoose is primarily active in the day time, but it can also be active at night. It inhabits a den that can be natural, such as a rock crevice or a thicket of vegetation, or it may dig or adopt a burrow (2) (6).

A largely carnivorous species that is highly reliant on scent when hunting (2), the Egyptian mongoose forages primarily in the early morning and late afternoon (4). It has a varied diet that includes small birds and mammals, snakes, frogs, toads, insects, fish and crabs, and sometimes also eggs, fruit and occasionally dead carcasses (2). It is renowned for its ability to hunt poisonous snakes, which is possible due to the mongoose’s low sensitivity to poison and its thick coat that offers a degree of protection (2).

Generally there is no particular breeding season for the Egyptian mongoose, although in the Middle East the majority of births take place in the spring. Most litters comprise two to four young, which are born after a gestation period of 49 to 84 days (2) (6).

A sociable mammal that lives in pairs or family groups, it is likely that each group defends a territory together. The Egyptian mongoose can arch its back and raise its fur when excited or threatened and can rear up on its hind legs to check its surroundings. Although rarely heard, it is capable of chattering, squeaking and growling (2).

There are no major threats to this species. In Spain and Portugal, where the Egyptian mongoose was introduced, it is considered a pest and is often poisoned and trapped (1).

While the Egyptian mongoose is currently not the focus of any specific conservation efforts, it is present in many protected areas across its distribution (1).  

Checked (24/08/10) by Dr Francis Gilbert, Associate Professor, University of Nottingham.

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Hoath, R. (2003) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
  3. Kingdon, J. (1977) East African Mammals. Volume IIIA: Carnivores. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  4. Estes, R. (1991) The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. University of California Press, California.
  5. Qumsiyeh, M.B. (1996) Mammals of the Holy Land. Texas Tech University Press, Texas. 
  6. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.