In a reproductive frenzy the female mongooses all give birth on the same night and in the same den. Up to twenty pups are born but by morning three quarters of them are missing - presumed dead. Just who is killing the pups? Emily and Sarah are hot on the trail, using a specially designed ‘burrowcam’ to film underground. Pythons, charging elephants and hippo are just some of the obstacles they meet as they investigate one of Africa’s great murder mysteries.
It’s 3 a.m. and deep inside a dusty burrow in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda an astonishing event is about to take place. Gathered in front of our cameras are some 20 banded mongoose females. All are pregnant and about to give birth. But this joyous event is not all that it seems. By morning more than three-quarters of the pups will be dead.
In a TV first Mongoose Murders goes underground to record this extraordinary event and investigate just who murders the babies? Why do mongoose synchronise their births? Why does a clan that is so protective of its own -mounting daring rescues from the nests of eagles to seeing off lions– practice infanticide? These are just some of the compelling questions that scientists Sarah Hodge from the UK and Emily Otali from Uganda, answer.
Smaller than a cat and a close relative of the meerkat, banded mongoose live in large, boisterous packs. They are polygamous with each clan containing several breeding males and females.
Each morning they head out at 7a.m. led by the eldest female. They are territorial and will travel several kilometres a day in search of food. Fishing, to ganging up and stealing food from other animals like jackals, or another clan, are just some of the ways they hunt. Pups are left in the burrow until they are about three weeks old. Here they are looked after by male baby sitters, freeing up the suckling mothers to feed. The clan frequently change burrows moving as one large group with the adults carrying the young in their mouths. By four weeks the pups are strong enough to leave the burrow. Each one then latches onto an adult mentor, shadowing it's every move.
To film underground we used a specially made ‘burrowcam’, a tiny lipstick camera mounted on a fibre-optic cable which fed back to a monitor on the surface. Remarkbale scenes underground were recorded by pushing the camera down the burrow on a flexible pole. Filming was done using an infrared ring-light which enabled us to capture images in the den.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is the second largest national park in Uganda and a world biosphere reserve. Famed for its beauty, a quarter of Africa’s bird species are found here as are tree-climbing lions, elephants, hippos, chimpanzees, bush babies, red tailed monkeys, flamingos to name but a few. Terrain is a dynamic mix of altitude forest, spectacular lakes, volcanic craters, savannah to vast papyrus swamps with lagoons, rivers and streams running through them.
"A fascinating investigation of a puzzling and important topic". Professor Tim Clutton Brock, Cambridge University.
"Thoroughly engrossing" J McGregor New Zealand
Supervising Producers: Sarah Cunliffe, Kathryn Pasternak
Producer and Director: Nick Stringer
Duration: 30 mins
Editor: Nick Elborough
Writers: Nick Stringer, Mike Dolan
Natural History Photography: Tony Allen Sync
Photography: Paul Williams
Production Manager: Angela Palmerton
Assistant Producer: Peter Ryley
Consultant: Professor Tim Clutton-Brock, Cambridge University
A Big Wave Productions Ltd. Production for National Geographic Television