Water Mongoose

A family of water mongooses bend down waterside for a drink.

The water mongoose is typically found near permanent water sources like rivers and dams.

Water mongoose
Scientific Name:
Atilax paludinosus
2 to 5.5 kg
Shoulder Height:
44 to 62 cm
Mating Season:
Throughout the year


The water or marsh mongoose, as it is also called, is a very bulky, stocky looking mongoose. Their black coat is perfectly adapted to life in the marshes and rivers it lives near, and its thickness is also responsible for their shaggy, puffy look when dry, but a very sleek look when wet. Their face is fairly wide, but their noses aren’t as pointy as those of slender or white-tailed mongooses. Weights between sexes are much the same, between 2 and 5.5 kg (4.4 – 12.1lb), although typically no more than 4kg (8.8lb).  They should not be confused with otters, who are also found near water sources, and also have dark coats of fur, but are differentiated by their flatter faces and often their backstroke swimming style.


Water Mongooses are more widely found throughout South Africa itself, along the Orange River border with Namibia and along the coast and mainland of the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces in addition to KwaZulu-Natal and beyond. It is almost exclusively found in areas of higher rainfall with more water sources in which to live and forage, with this species being absent in the Kalahari, Namib and Sahara Deserts, and more commonly found in areas of the rainforest, equatorial countries, West African countries and tropical Mozambique.  A small strip off the coast of Mozambique where the Zambezi River flows into the ocean is also home to a number of these animals.


These animals are very much in ‘least concern’ territory when it comes to their conservation status, although the populations are secluded in areas such as rivers, marshes, dams, lakes or other water sources. Their populations are however decreasing due to irresponsible or illegal hunting, the expansion of small settlements which inevitably means sharing their home with the laundry and sewerage of the community here in Africa. Their meat is a regular seller at bush meat markets, especially in countries like Nigeria, but their healthy populations in many protected areas throughout the continent keep their status where it is, and help to secure their presence and biodiversity as a species.


The name of this peculiar creature most definitely points out its preferences when it comes to habitat. As you might have guessed these animals love areas adjacent or close to water sources of some sort where vegetation like reeds and water plants are the main form of cover. Here oxygen deprived ecosystems full of air breathing fish, amphibians, aquatic birds and invertebrates live and provide a suitable inventory of prey for this mongoose to delve into. Many swamps and marshes throughout Sub-Saharan Africa fit this bill, although they are especially common in areas of higher rainfall, in tropical or sub-tropical climates most frequently.

Social Organization

These animals are almost exclusively solitary and live alone or with their young. The burrows they live in that lie on the waterfront near rivers is typically vigorously defended by unwanted guests of the same and of other species, and because of this they are presumed to be territorial in one way or another. They regularly spread their fowl and strong smelling scent as if it were a hobby and have many different methods of doing this. The most common ones include rubbing their cheeks on different nearby objects, or doing handstands in an attempt to secrete a very strong substance from their anal glands for the same purpose.

Social Behavior

Most of their day is spent foraging for food. They do this by swimming into deeper water and attempting to catch a nice water organism with their strong and sharp claws on which to snack, or by patrolling the muddy river banks and reed thickets for other delicacies that may await their presence. When two mongooses get into a fight during the day they make very loud growling and barking noises of different pitches to try and intimidate the other with their ferocity and successfully defend whatever they were fighting over in the first place.


The courtship and physical reproduction of Marsh or Water Mongooses are known in very little detail, what comes of it though is more known. Nests are built by mothers, preferably near a water source, prior to the birth of her offspring using reeds, grasses and sticks to cushion and protect their fragile bodies in the early days of their lives. The size of a mother’s litter ranges from 1 to 3 new faces on average, and she can give birth and raise up to 2 litters from blind rat-like infants to fully functioning adults within one calendar year.

Anti-Predator Behavior

Water Mongooses are not as cute, flabby and fluffy as they seem when they are attacked or threatened in any way. They are the fierce gladiators of the marshes and rarely let any animal make a fool out of them, defending themselves with a strong bite, sharp claws and a will that isn’t easy to put out. Dogs that have attacked these mongooses have found themselves on the wrong end of a bite to the neck, and were left stranded in the middle of a river. This is the tactic these animals take, using their strength in the water to overcome the strength a predator thought they might have had on land. If this fails they roll up into a ball and secrete every scent they possibly can while trying to make a getaway.

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