White-tailed mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda)

Also known as: white tailed mongoose
GenusIchneumia (1)
SizeTotal length: 100 - 120 cm (2)
Male weight: c. 5 kg (2)
Female weight: c. 4 kg (2)

The white-tailed mongoose is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The largest of all mongooses, the white-tailed mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda) is a slender and long-legged carnivore that takes its name from its white-tipped, bushy, tapering tail (which can be black tipped in west Africa) (3) (4) (6). Other than its black legs, the white-tailed mongoose is largely mottled grey in colour, with light-coloured, woolly underfur mixed with longer, black, coarse guard hairs (3) (4) (6).

 The white-tailed mongoose has a distinct humped appearance, due to the hind legs being longer than the front legs. It also has a characteristic patch of naked skin on the soles of the forefeet that stretches to the wrist, and a naked slit that divides the upperlip (4) (6).

The white-tailed mongoose is distributed across the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, from Senegal to southern Egypt, and over much of sub-Saharan Africa (1) (6).

The white-tailed mongoose is mainly found in grassland and savannah and prefers areas of thick cover, such as forest edge and brush-fringed streams (4) (6). This mongoose species is also found in urban areas, but does not occur in swamps, tropical rainforest, deserts or above 4,000 metres. Daytime rest sites are within burrows, termite mounds, rocks or buildings (6).

One subspecies of white-tailed mongoose (Ichneumia albicauda albicauda) in the Middle East inhabits mountainous regions, where it tends to avoid open desert, preferring habitats near permanent water (3).

A supreme opportunist and skilled hunter (1), the white-tailed mongoose is nocturnal and mainly insectivorous, feeding on surface invertebrates (mainly termites and ants in the dry season and dung beetles in the rainy season), but also occasionally takes small vertebrates (small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles) berries, fruits and carrion (3) (6). To break open shelled food, such as eggs and snails, the white-tailed mongoose throws its prey between its back legs against a stone or other hard object (4). Despite being a fast runner over short distances, the white-tailed mongoose may defend itself from predators using anal scent glands that can emit a noxious fluid to deter predators (4), much like a skunk (2).

In Ethiopia, the mean home range size for males was 3.17 square kilometres, and 2.61 square kilometres for a female (6). In Tanzania, mean home range size was 0.97 square kilometres for males and 0.64 square kilometres for females, with a density of up to four individuals per square kilometres (6). Home range size in Kenya has been reported up to eight square kilometres (6). Male ranges are exclusive, but they overlap substantially with females. Some female ranges are exclusive, whilst others are apparently shared with other females, although they forage independently (6). In high-density populations, there appears to be male-biased dispersal and females remain on the maternal home range, which leads to the formation of female clusters or clans (6).

Outside the breeding season, the white-tailed mongoose is typically solitary. Reported pairs and small groups are probably consorting individuals or mothers with young (4). Breeding pairs share a territory during the breeding season and raise two to four pups (5) (6), which in captivity are born between June and July (3).

The white-tailed mongoose’s adaptable nature and varied diet has allowed it to adjust well to human presence and, as a result, it is often found near human dwellings (3). There are no known major threats to the white-tailed mongoose, although it may occasionally be captured in traps used in predator control programmes (1).

In the absence of major threats, the white-tailed mongoose has not been the target of any known conservation programmes. It is, however, afforded a degree of protection in a number of protected areas (1). Its distribution and population densities may be limited by the availability of suitable den sites (6).

For more information on the conservation of mongooses:

Authenticated (25/02/2011) by Dr A Jennings, Project Leader, Malaysia Carnivore Project:
http://www.carnivoreproject.org/ and

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
  2. Predator Conservation Trust - White-tailed mongoose (September, 2010)
  3. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, UK
  4. Nowak, R. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Maryland.
  5. Kingdon, J. (1988) East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa: Volume 3, Part A: Carnivores. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.
  6. Gilchrist, J.S., Jennings, A.P., Veron, G. and Cavallini, P. (2009) Family Herpestidae. In: Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.) Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 1: Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.