Zoo Keepers Use "Vicks Vap-O-Rub" To Help Mongooses Get Along

Keepers at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo found that their mongooses weren't getting along. Their solution to keep the peace was as surprising as it is clever.

The problem first became apparent when one of the zoo's banded mongooses (Mungos mungo) had a veterinary exam. When he returned to his enclosure, his group didn't recognize him. Some of his former group-mates even became aggressive. The keepers thought it could have been because his scent had changed as a result of his check-up, since mongooses recognize each other by their odor.

That's a problem for an individual from a highly social species. In the wild, banded mongooses live in mixed-sex groups of as many as forty individuals, and they sleep together in underground dens. What could be done to help the lonely mongoose?

The keepers couldn't return the mongoose's original scent to him, but they could arrange for all the mongooses to smell the same again...using a children's cough medicine.

The Children's Zoo explains:

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."

...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."

It might just be as clever as using Calvin Klein Obsession for Men to lure big cats to camera traps.

Header image: Kristian Thy/Wikimedia Commons