The best-known species of mongoose is the Indian grey mongoose. It is a rather small, agile, weasel-like carnivore native to Africa, southern Europe and Asia. There is much variation in size among the 37 different species of mongooses. Rudyard Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi was a mongoose.
Most mongooses live near streams, in thickets, hedges and fields. They are opportunistic carnivores that feed on rats, mice, snakes, lizards, eggs, insects and occasionally, fruit. The Indian grey mongoose is renowned for killing cobras, of which it is capable because of its very quick movements and the protection of its thick hide and long, thick hair.
One of the largest species, the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), was considered a sacred animal in ancient Egypt. It checked the increase of crocodiles in the Nile River by eating their eggs and gained the popular name "Pharaoh's mouse".