Sly Mongoose, all the dog dem know your name,
Oh, yes, sly mongoose, all the dog dem know your name.
You went into the mistress’ kitchen,
Take out one of she fattest chicken,
Put it into your waistcoat pocket
Before we get into today’s Farmer Q & A, here’s what we have for offer at the farmstand this afternoon: Sweet mix, spicy mix, bagged young arugula, microgreens, lettuce heads, slicer and heirloom tomatoes, a rainbow of cherry tomatoes, cooking greens, a few herbs, pineapples, lots of fresh Mediterranean figs, passionfruit, and raw local honey.
Q: Are mongooses (mongeese? mongii? mongoose dem? What is the plural of mongoose anyway?) good or bad?
A: On the farm, mongoose are both good and bad.
The mongoose often spotted in the Virgin Islands is a smallish member of the weasel family, commonly seen crossing roadways and investigating roadkill on St. Croix. Introduced from India during the height of the sugarcane production days on St. Croix, they were a failed attempt at integrated pest management to control accidentally introduced European rats in sugarcane fields. Mongoose usually sport a rough and bristly coat of a golden brown color, blending precisely in with drying grasses. Up close, they have reddish, beady eyes, sharp claws, and a mouth of sharp, jagged teeth, and will hiss, growl, scream and spit loudly and ferociously when approached.
The famous Calypso song “Sly Mongoose”, quoted in part above, references their sneaky character. While it’s a bit anthropomorphic to assign an animal has a certain type of “character”, nonetheless the mongoose has a behavioral habit of staying out of sight and keeping to cover. They hunt very stealthily, and often ‘steal’ food, such as eggs from nests or baby birds from cages. The mongoose was partially responsible, it is believed, for the decimation of the native iguana population on St. Croix and the complete extinction of over half a dozen or more native species of birds, lizards and insects in the West Indies. Due to its damaging effects on the ecosystem here, the VI government issued a bounty in the 1930s of 15 to 25 cents per head for mongoose.
While the mongoose has become somewhat of a “mascot” or icon of the Virgin Islands, it is an invasive exotic that has, due to its predatory efficiency, reduced the biodiversity of the natural flora and fauna of the Virgin Islands. Perhaps the same could be said of many of the human population in the Virgin Islands, as well, with our development and fast cars. So de pot call de kettle black!
We’ll start with the good: we believe that mongoose do predate on (hunt and kill) some animals that are harmful to our farm crops. These include green iguanas, grasshoppers, and rats. They also eat the occasional cane toad or “crapeau”, and other amphibians, which can sometimes be damaging to young plants. Mongoose tend to live in brush piles and in lumber piles, common around the farm, and they hunt throughout the day. They are not often found in trees and roofs like rats, but are able to climb in small shrubs, and like little badgers, are extremely ferocious when cornered. Mongoose are diurnal animals, meaning that they sleep at night. This is in part why they were not the ideal predator control for sugarcane field rats and mice, which are primarily nocturnal, or active at night. But, if a mongoose comes across a rodent nest, they will help to control that population.
What’s the downside to the mongoose on the farm? They do steal chicken, turkey, guinea bird, and wild bird eggs, will kill young wild birds and young poultry, and will even attack day-old lambs in the pasture. But perhaps most inconvenient of all, Farmer Luca recently made the unpleasant discovery that they are not solely carnivores. In fact, mongoose enjoy papayas, fresh Mediterranean figs at their height of ripeness, and other high-value fruit crops.
Overall, the mongoose is a nuisance for a farmer, but helps to control other introduced nuisances. So he gets a pass for the most part.