mongoose zoo attraction

How Zoo Keepers Fixed a “Smelly” Problem

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has come up with an unusual fix for a “smelly” problem.  It all started when one of the zoo’s banded mongooses had his medical checkup.  Upon his return, zoo keepers noticed that the troop was reluctant to allow him back in.  He was the same old mongoose, ready to join his troop, but he smelled different.  That was a big problem, because mongooses recognize each other by their scent.  His troop refused to socialize with this now strange-smelling mongoose or share their space with him.  Some of the others even became aggressive despite his clean bill of health.  What’s a mongoose to do!?!

Zoo keeper Nancee Hutchinson found a unique solution to the problem. “We bring them indoors and spray Vicks Vap-O-Rub on the floor.  The whole troop comes running and rolls all around in it.  Then they all smell the same, even the one who spent some time away.” 

When a troop of mongooses rolls around in a smell it’s called “scent marking”.  It’s common in the wild and ensures that all troop members smell the same.  Hutchinson became interested in using Vicks Vap-O-Rub with the mongooses after she learned that a zoo in Europe had used a similar technique with meerkats.  “When we spray Vicks inside the mongoose enclosure, the mongooses respond by scent-marking.  They all roll around in the Vicks.  This overrides any old smells that might have caused them to reject a member.”

This fall, Hutchinson will share what she learned at the American Association of Zoo Keepers national conference.   

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