Mongooses in Uganda

Mongoose mentors teach traditions through imitation

The latest critter to prove its cultural cleverness is the banded mongoose, which belongs to the same family as the more familiar meerkat. Mongooses are experts at cracking open shells, and most of them are particular about their methods: once they choose a strategy, they stick to it and teach it to younger members of their social group. In other words, banded mongooses learn traditions through imitation, according to a study in the June issue of Current Biology. The researchers claim this is the first experimental evidence showing wild mammals pass on traditions.

“Some people argue that even today only humans are capable of social learning,” says Corsin Müller, a University of Exeter zoologist and lead author of the new study. “But traditions and imitations are not restricted to large-brained animals like dolphins and chimpanzees. They potentially occur in many other animals.”

Müller worked with five groups of wild mongooses at Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Banded mongooses live in large social groups of between 20 and 70 members, sharing a den at night and foraging together during the day. Mongoose pups form exclusive relationships with adult male mentors, learning—among other things—how to crack open the shells of cherished foods like bird eggs and rhinoceros beetles.

Banded Mongoose Research Project

Banded mongooses are a highly social mongoose and are closely related to the better known meerkat. We have been studying a population of banded mongooses at Mweya, Queen Elizabeth National Park since 1994, and our research has revealed a social system that is full of surprises. On these pages you will find out more about the life and habits of banded mongooses and links to our publications.

Mongoose traditions shed light on evolution of human culture

A groundbreaking study of banded mongooses in Uganda has shown even small-brained animals pass on traditions, giving a valuable insight into how complex human culture could have evolved.

Scientists from the University of Exeter’s School of Biosciences studied five groups of banded mongooses, one of them made famous in the BBC TV series Banded Brothers: The Mongoose Mob. Their pioneering research observed the animals passing on traditions (namely foraging preferences) from one generation to the next, a practice previously thought to be reserved only to humans and the most intellectually advanced animals, such as primates and dolphins.

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