Mongoose.—A small carnivorous animal of India, noted as a destroyer of snakes, and accordingly encouraged. It does not hesitate to attack the most venomous serpents, killing them by agility and having no protection against their poison except its hair and ability to dodge the blows. The mongoose and its near relative, the ichneumon of northern Africa, are gray and a little larger than a rat. All make interesting pets.
The ichneumons, or mongooses, are small, dark-colored, unspotted animals, varying in size from that of a weasel to the bigness of a house cat, with compact bodies and pointed muzzles. They are active, bold and predacious, living on small game of every sort, and making their homes in holes in the ground. They are noted for their animosity to reptiles, and in ancient Egypt were protected as "sacred" because they killed asps and hunted for and ate crocodiles' eggs. The old term "ichneumon" has disappeared, however, in favor of the term "mongoose," which is the name of the East Indian species famous for snake killing. It is able, by its astonishing quickness, to spring upon and kill a cobra, even when that deadly snake is prepared to strike at its little foe. Mongooses were colonized in Jamaica and other West Indian islands years ago to destroy the rats that were a plague in the sugar plantations; but they presently turned their attention to the poultry as easier game, and became a greater nuisance than the rats. These fierce little snake killers constitute the "herpestine" section of the family.