The story has often been anthologized, and has been published more than once as a short book in its own right.
The story follows the experiences of a mongoose named Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (for his chattering vocalizations) after he is adopted into a British family residing in India, as a pet and as protection against cobras.
After becoming friendly with some of the other creatures inhabiting the garden, Rikki is warned of two cobras Nag and Nagaina, who are angered by the family's presence on their territory. Accordingly, Nag enters the house's bathroom before dawn to kill the humans and make Rikki leave so their babies will grow in a safe place without worries. But is attacked by Rikki from behind. The struggle that ensues awakens the human family and the father kills Nag with a shotgun.
The grieving Nagaina attempts revenge against Rikki's humans, cornering them as they have breakfast on an outdoor veranda. While she is distracted by a female tailor bird, Rikki destroys the cobra's unhatched brood of eggs except for one. He carries it to where Nagaina is threatening to bite the child Teddy while his parents watch helplessly.
Nagaina recovers her egg, but is pursued by Rikki away from the house to the cobra's underground nest where an unseen final battle takes place. Rikki emerges triumphant from the hole declaring Nagaina dead. His subsequent role is to protect the family by keeping the garden free from any future intrusion by snakes.
In 1965, in the Soviet Union, at the film studio "Soyuzmultfilm," the director Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya shot an animated short of the story, titled Рикки тикки тави (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi). Ten years later, Chuck Jones adapted the story for a half hour television special in the United States, and four years later, Aleksandr Zguridi and Nana Kldiashvili directed a live action feature film titled Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.
There have been numerous book adaptions, including:
- Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Other Animal Stories (1984), illustrated by Charles Keeping
- Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (1997), illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Three related songs are:
- Donovan's "Riki Tiki Tavi" on his album from 1970, Open Road, in which Donovan compares the little mongoose to large institutions, such as the church and the government.
- "Rikki Tikki Tavi" is a song by alternative metal band Fair to Midland on their 2011 album Arrows and Anchors.
- Boneske's song "Nagaina"
- A composition by Alfred Schnittke made for the 1975 film of the same name.
- Tatsuro Yamashita includes the line "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" in the chorus of his song "夏への扉"
- Kipling, Rudyard. "Rikki-tikki-tavi." haley Huang. 16 January 2014.
- "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- "Search results for 'ti:Rikki-Tikki-Tavi' > 'Book' > 'Fiction'". worldcat.org. OCLC. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
- "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and other animal stories". worldcat.org. OCLC. Retrieved 3 June 2017.