Scent marking within and between groups of wild banded mongooses


  • Editor: Virginia Hayssen

Neil R. Jordan, The Vincent Wildlife Trust, 3 & 4 Bronsil Courtyard, Eastnor, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1EP, UK. Tel: +44 0 1531 636441


Scent marking is commonly described as a territorial behaviour, and scent marks might deter potential intruders from entering occupied areas. Conspecific neighbours present both a reproductive and a territorial threat, thus, determining which, if any, of these threats shapes scent-marking behaviour is difficult. Banded mongooses Mungos mungo provide a rare clear separation between reproductive rivals (found within groups) and territorial rivals (neighbouring groups), because immigration into social groups is extremely rare, and mating occurs almost exclusively within groups. This situation offers an opportunity to assess the relative importance of territorial defence and intra-group competition for mates in shaping scent-marking behaviour. We combined detailed behavioural observations of scent marking, chemical analyses of scent composition and discrimination experiments in the field, and found little evidence for higher rates of scent marking in overlapping areas, a lack of group specificity of scents and a failure of individuals to discriminate between the scents of different groups. Although scent may fulfill some role in territorial demarcation and defence, these results suggest that scent marks and scent-marking patterns are also involved in communicating within social groups.