That Spring is around the corner is evident from many signs: the first of lesser striped swallows and yellow-billed kites returning from their Winter migrations have been spotted by residents, the pin-tailed whydahs are growing their tails and colouring up into breeding colours as are the males of many other species of birds. Another exciting sign is the emergence of the robust buds of the Paintbrush, Snake or Blood Lily from the bare earth below trees. The broad, wavy leaves, upright stems, beautiful orange flower heads surrounded by reddish brown bracts all make for a spectacular garden or container plant. Sunbirds and weavers feed on the nectar, and the bright red berries that follow the flowers are loved by fruit eating birds and monkeys. If possible, make sure you salvage a few seeds, a single pearly-white seed in within each berry and these germinate quite easily in rich, well-draining soil. Although the plant is used in traditional medicine the bulbs are poisonous and watch out for the amaryllis caterpillar that may attack these plants.
Simbithi residents love our banded mongooses but not so, their fleas which can be come problematic when a troop decides to breed under a deck as they then remain in the same den for between 4 – 6 weeks. Residents must be extremely careful with using pesticides at this time. As a rule, prevention is better than cure so blocking access to under your deck is a good idea. At the moment the Environmental Department is constructing some artificial dens away from houses in open spaces and it is hoped this will reduce the “flea problem” that these fascinating creatures inadvertently cause residents. Banded mongooses are highly gregarious and live in groups of on average 20 individuals but group size can vary from seven to 40 individuals. They have a complex social structure, unlike many other mongoose species that are largely solitary. There are generally as many males as females and surprisingly no hierarchy has ever been detected by researchers observing them, apart from when females are “on heat”. Aggression within a group is very low but aggression between groups does occur.
They sleep together at night in dens that have multiple entrances but seldom stay in the same den for more than a few nights before moving onto another den within their home range. They favour termite mounds for dens but also make dens under bushes and. Being diurnal they emerge from the den soon after dawn and forage for several hours in the morning. They then have a midday siesta, lying together in the shade before foraging again in the afternoon, after which they head together for a den in which to spend the night.
Although our banded mongooses breed up to four times a year, Spring – when food is plentiful – is when a lot of pups are born. All the breeding females in a troop synchronise their oestrus so that they all give birth on the same day or within a day of each other to between 2 and 6 young. This happens 60 to 70 days after mating. Once the pups are born, collective nursing takes place with any lactating female feeding any pup. As surprising is the fact that non-breeding males guard the pups while the moms are out foraging during the 4- 6 weeks that the pups remain in the den and each male pup forms an exclusive relationship with a single helper. These chaperones teach the younger males how to forage for food once they leave the den. The young female pups are also baby sat and looked after by other members of the troop and stay together as a bonded group, sometimes for life.