When four lions tried to make a meal out of this marsh mongoose its reaction wasn’t what anyone expected. Despite his shock, however, one photographer managed to capture some amazing footage of the strange interaction.
The wildlife photographer in question was Jérôme Guillaumot. He was born in Montpellier in the south of France. Nowadays he dedicates a great deal of his time to photographing animals in the Languedoc region of the country.
However, photography has taken him far beyond the country of his birth. Indeed he has a particular passion for photographing the wildlife of Africa. “Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya [and] Namibia provide amazing photographic topics and incredible spotting,” he explained on his website.
While photographing wildlife in Kenya, Guillaumot spotted a curious interaction between a mongoose and some lions. He was in the Maasai Mara national park when he spotted the standoff – and he successfully captured the scene as it happened.
The four lions ganged up on the little mongoose and surrounded him in a circle, cutting off his escape routes. But they got more than they bargained for. Their prey had decided to defend itself. The mongoose would put all its strength and daring into the battle. Screeching at the top of its lungs, it began lunging at the lions.
As the scene unfolded, Guillaumot was stunned. He said, “A conflict between two carnivorous species is a rare scene. But when one of the opponents that is 2 kilograms [4 pounds] faces four guys that are 100 kilograms [220 pounds] each, there can’t be no real fight. Nevertheless, the confrontation, I will tell you, lasted at least a quarter of an hour.”
While the lions tentatively tried to fight back, swiping their enormous paws in the direction of the mongoose, the little animal seemed to have baffled them. Still screaming, the mongoose launched an attack on one of the lions. This fierce display bought the mongoose time to escape his attackers and scurry into the safety of a hole in the ground.
Despite his lucky escape, however, this was not the end of the encounter. Instead, the mongoose reemerged. The lions were still there – but the mongoose was ready to return to battle.
The mongoose began screaming once again. In a surprising turn of events, the lions began to back off as the mongoose approached. Then, having confused the beasts once more, the mongoose finally ran off, leaving the lions behind.
Although Guillaumot has photographed African wildlife many times before and often spots unique animal behaviors, this was a first for him. He told National Geographic that in 20 previous expeditions to Africa he had never seen anything like it.
“Of course, I was sure that the mongoose would not escape this fight,” he explained. “As always in this type of situation, [it’s] a mix of excitement to [see] such a rare behavior and grief/empathy for the expected death of the small one.” What was so extraordinary about this tale, he said, was how the “determination [of the mongoose] made [it] possible to face [its] opponents and eventually escape.”
To get an expert’s opinion on the encounter, National Geographic contacted Jenni Sanderson. Based at the University of Exeter she has wide-ranging experience of studying Uganda’s banded mongooses and was able to provide insights into the actions of the marsh mongoose.
She explained, “The mongoose looks like it is trying to defend itself and/or its territory from the lions. It’s possible that the mongoose has some pups in the den, and that could be why it is fighting so hard to scare the lions away. Nearly all animals become strangely aggressive when they have young to protect.”
She also added, “I don’t know how common it is for marsh mongooses, but I have seen banded mongooses attack many animals bigger than themselves, [such as] pythons, baboons [and] monitor lizards.” Indeed, mongooses often fight and win battles with snakes. Sometimes things go wrong, though.
Sanderson explained, “We are always bemused by the fact that the banded mongooses we study seem to attack pythons much more than is necessary. If they find one sleeping under a bush, they will attack it repeatedly. In fact, this even ended up with one of the banded mongooses being eaten by a python – something I don’t think would have happened if they had left it alone.”
As for the lions, Sanderson has an explanation for their behavior, too. “It is important to point out that the lions in the video are quite young,” she said. “You can tell that they are young because of the spotted patterns on their legs.”
She added that because the lions are still growing and learning, “[It is possible] the young lions are only playing with [the mongoose], rather than trying to eat it. I imagine that if the lions wanted to kill and eat the mongoose then they could quite easily.”
However, this is not the only time that humans have seen a mongoose taking on a lion. In another encounter, a pride of lions started stalking and then chasing a group of mongooses. Most of them got away – except for one, which was snatched up by a lion.
Luckily for the mongoose, the lion released it from her claws for a few seconds. This window gave the mongoose its chance to fight back. It screamed loudly and advanced on the lion which began backing off. By shocking and confusing the lion, the little animal successfully bought itself enough time to run away and burrow underground.
When faced with considerably larger predators, these plucky little animals will stop at nothing to protect themselves and their young. Indeed, they just won’t back down – and there’s little doubt that they hit well above their weight. It’s a lesson that we can all perhaps learn from.