The ongoing NSF Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases funded study on the banded mongoose of the Chobe region has kicked into high gear in 2016. Daily troop tracking and monitoring continues as usual, along with the capture and collaring of members from as yet unidentified troops, but the team at Virginia Tech's Alexander Research Group has some powerful new tools at their disposal to aid in the behavioral analysis of these fascinating creatures. Sophisticated behavioral analysis software to capture and analyse the data derived from recorded behavior patterns is one of these, but this is useless without a way of gathering this data in the first place.
Another powerful tool, and one that will help to solve the problem of gathering this data, takes the form of camera traps positioned around den sites. These grant a rare and valuable insight into the daily lives and activities of banded mongoose, unsullied by the proximity of researches. It enables us to monitor and record group behavior in a way never quite possible before: to gauge troop size and composition, to assess the health of the troop as a whole, and then to assess the progression of M. mungi any sick individuals. We can even monitor interactions with the other species these animals live amongst, including people.
All told, these techniques will allow our researchers in the field to gain a newer and fuller understanding of the troops that are part of our study, and, what's more, to do so without having to be physically present. This will not only save a lot of time, but will prevent observers from disrupting or affecting the scenes, behaviors or interactions that will come to form such a crucial part of this project.
Below is one of the thousands of images so far captured by our trail-cams. These pictures offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of these animals as they forage, groom each other, keep watch (as the troop members are doing in this particular image – they're cooperating to keep tabs on all approaches to their den-site, which is just out of frame) and even play. It's amazing to think that images like these, taken together, will allow our team to gain a better understanding of the social dynamics of these animals and, ultimately, the way these dynamics offer pathogens like M. mungi the opportunity to spread.