The hornbill and the dwarf mongoose

28th October 2014   •  By Michael Anderson

Safari guide, Michael Anderson, photographs a pair of southern yellow-billed hornbill interacting under the watchful eye of some dwarf mongoose.

The southern yellow-billed hornbill and the dwarf mongoose share a relationship that no one understands fully, and in some ways, it’s more interesting that way, it keeps us guessing.

Some cold, wet mornings, you’ll find the hornbill, sitting atop the termite mound that the mongoose have taken refuge in over night,  waiting for it’s band of companions to rouse.  A little impatiently it seems, it sometimes taps on the mound, quite insistently.  Before long, the band of mongoose start to emerge from the warm interior, ready to start searching for a morsel or two.

Pair of dwarf mongoose look back at photographer Michael Anderson

© Michael Anderson

As they forage through the shrubs and grass, the hornbill perches on branches above, snapping up any unfortunate insects, disturbed by the mongoose. 

What does the mongoose get out of this, apart from a rude awakening?  Well, since the hornbill gets an easy meal, the mongoose gets in return, greater safety that the hornbill’s higher vantage point gives them.  Should the hornbill spot something dangerous, an eagle or another ground predator, it will utter an alarm calls, sending the mongoose scurrying to the nearest shelter.

A pair of southern-billed hornbill being watched by a dwarf mongoose

© Michael Anderson

This is known as mutualism.  Both species are benefiting from the other with neither being negatively affected.  In these photographs it looks as though the mongoose are curious about the interaction of the two hornbills. Perhaps they are wondering who will be their next alarm clock.

Video overview of mongoose and hornbill mutualism

Mutualism of dwarf mongoose and hornbills explained.

Video length: 2 minutes 14 seconds. Video source: University of Montana, Evolutionary Ecology of East Africa


Discover an array of facts about the dwarf mongoose and vote for the one that you find most interesting.

Prior to working at AndBeyond’s Ngala Private Game Reserve Michael attended the professional safari guide course.

To get a full understanding of what a safari guide does and what it takes to become one please see our dedicated blog post to guiding.