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Linda Leach, age 12, of Shreveport, La., for her question:

What is a mongoose?

If you get to see the Cinerama Seven Wonders of the World, you will watch a mongoose in action. The furry little animal looks like something between a weasel and a cat and he is doing battle with a deadly snake. This is the star performance of a mongoose, for he is just about the best snake fighter in the world. A duel between the two mortal enemies, the snake and the mongoose, is well worth watching.

The mongoose family of animals seems strange to us, for it is not native to the western world. The mongoose and his relatives, the genet and the civet, are everyday animals in the warm regions of Asia, Africa and parts of Europe. As a group, these animals somewhat resemble both weasels and cats. But the three families are not at‑all related.

In appearance, the mongoose looks like a short‑legged, foxy‑faced house cat. Also like a cat, he seems to have a double personality. He can take care of himself in the wild or settle down as an adorable family pet. He loves people and even a wild mongoose will walk right up to satisfy his curiosity about human beings. We would expect such a fearless, curious little fellow to be intelligent, for fearless curiosity leads to know‑how. This is certainly true of the mongoose. He is a very smart little darling.

You would never guess that this two‑foot long bundle of soft fur would dare to attack a seven foot snake. But he does, and he almost always wins. That lithe, graceful body is a powerhouse of speed and muscle. What’s more, he has brains and a snake is not a very smart animal. The big snake is too stupid to keep up with the ruses, dodges and tricks of the little mongoose.

In the Cinerama movie, the mongoose looksmuch bigger than he really is. This is not a camera trick It is a mongoose trick.At the first sniff of a snake, before the fight begins, the little fighter stands his fur up on end, even the fur of his short fluffy tail. When the snake strikes, he hopes to get a mouthful of mongoose meat but gets only a mouthful of fur for his trouble. The fluffed up mongoose forces him to strike short of his mark.

But he will continue the banquet when he wakes up. Doesn’t the mongoose ever get bitten by a poisonous snake? Yes, he does. He may even be killed. But it seems that he is less sensitive to snake venom than most creatures. Maybe he builds up some protection from eating poison or from a series of very small bites, though this is not certain,

The road runner bird of the American southwest uses much the same method in tackling a rattler. Also like the road runner, the mongoose makes a good pet. He is affectionate and loves people. But ‑ he has one regrettable habit. He is also fond of chickens. He has been imported to certain areas with the idea of keeping down the snake and rat population. But the little scrapper turned his talents on the chicken yards. No one seems able to train him to stick to snakes and rats ‑ not when there are chickens around.


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