Wednesday, April 7, 2010

‘tis the season to be anxious

Work-related stress is often seasonal.

Maybe it's the pre-Christmas rush that leaves you panicky? Or the build up to the financial year end? For me, it's the change of seasons.

No, I don't suffer a phobia about falling leaves or daffodils. I just can't cope with moulting mongooses.
Right now the mongooses are shedding their summer coats. This may seem unremarkable (they don't change colour after all) but it's really a crisis waiting to happen. Along with their fur, they lose their ID marks too.
Each mongoose in my study population has a unique ID mark so I can easily recognise who is doing what. Using a long-handled paint-brush, I crawl around the group while they're lounging at their refuge, surreptitiously dabbing a little blob of blonde hair dye on each animal's fur. Although the dye (which gives a golden colour) lasts only a couple of weeks, the bleached patch remains for around 6 months until the fur is shed.

Bugbears, last week, when they still had ID marks. Look closely to identify Cinnamon (right rib), Baloo (right shoulder) and Koda (upper tail).

Because it's been raining almost continuously for the last three days, I've been working at home. There's no point visiting the mongooses because they stay in bed when it's raining (or very hot, or very cold: the world's most civilised study animals). But today, with the sun shining brightly and everything sparkling and green, I set out enthusiastically. No go: every drainage channel, every tiny creek, is now a raging torrent of swirling, muddy water. Fortunately, I was still able to reach part of Bugbear's range (after some nail-biting creek-crossings), but was appalled to find that almost every animal had lost its mark! Sitting shivering in a leaky termite mound, what else has a mongoose got to do but grow fur?

Fortunately, I was able to figure out who was who from their various idiosyncrasies (Baloo has a missing toe, Black a scar on his neck, Iorek a bald patch under her chin from an old abscess, etc.) and I slopped the dye around accordingly. But I'm now freaking out about what's happening at the other three groups. It'll be at least a couple of days before the water recedes enough for me to reach them.
Yes, I know I could avoid all this bi-annual anxiety by marking the mongooses permanently, using freeze branding (the fur on their scar-tissue grows back white). However, I feel that burning sores into my mongooses is more invasive than I wish to be.

I guess I just cross my fingers and hope.

Two of the creeks I chose not to drive through today.


  1. Excellent blog Lynda! Take care crossing those creeks, and hopefully you'll be able to identify the dwarfies when you get there. Impressed with your strong animal welfare approach too (especially the olfactory tracking!). Keep up the great work and the great blog! N

  2. NJ, Thanks for the encouragement. I managed to get through to Koppiekats today, and they don't seem to have shed a single hair! Perhaps their termite mounds are more snug than Bugbears'.

  3. I love the idea of you sneaking up on the lazing mongooses to give them an unsolicited permamnent rinse.

    Wouldn't freeze-branding guarantee you'd never get within cooee of them ever again?

  4. Snail,
    Yes, they do tend to hold grudges.

    In theory, you can use an anaesthetic that wipes out the animal's memory of the whole ugly incident. Unfortunately, when captured, dwarf mongooses give blood-curdling, 911 screams that instantly incite the other mongooses to attack the captor. This isn't something easily forgotten by the group, or me!


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