The animal, which had probably taken shelter in the complex for the night was jolted out of her sleep by the officials preparing for the day’s ceremonies, and strayed into the main hall, scaring the living daylights out of the crowd. The feline with her brilliant yellowish brown coat marked with an exotic mix of tiger like strips, leopard like spots and a bushy tail, suddenly became the centre of attention.
The crowd that included the District Court staff, mainly wanted the animal to vacate the hall, which was the venue for a cultural event that was to follow. Unable to dissuade the crowd, Meera sought help and was assisted by Maruti Hoshi, a journalist who kept the crowd away till the rescue team could actually arrive.
The two and half year old animal played cat-and-mouse for more than four hours at dawn on Friday, putting the District Court administration in a tizzy with her frenzied feline antics. As the chief guest was on his way, the organizers of the function were keen to chase the animal out. A few self styled ‘jungle-boys’ formed a mob and wielded sticks and stones to chase the hapless animal, till someone called up a group of wildlife exerts and rescuers.
“I got a call around 5.30 am and immediately rushed for the site. This toddy cat had entered the ‘pooja’ hall,” recalls Meera Thosar, a student who volunteers in wild animal rescue, adding “the people were more keen on the functions and wanted to remove the animal at all costs. They were all set to kill it when our team reached.”
According to folklore, this animal with its distinctive markings and a peculiar non-feline snout-like face, is regarded as being ‘evil’. Locals say that the cat often splits open human skulls and feeds on the brain!
Another myth tells of how the cat often disappears with human babies, which it later feeds on. Animal experts however, dismiss this as hogwash. Toddy cats and civets are common in the woods in the Shivajinagar area. The courts are in a green area where the cats go for a night’s rest. After some high drama of another two hours, the exhausted animal was eventually captured and sent to the shelter where it will ‘de-stress’ for a few weeks before being released in the forests.
Toddy cats are small, longish and low-to-ground animals with long tails, only a little larger than a big mongoose and nocturnal, so that they are unlikely to be seen on a regular basis. The name ‘toddy cat’ is derived from the name for wine, that is extracted from the sap of the palm tree, toddy. Both sexes have scent glands underneath their tail that resemble testicles. They can spry a noxious secretion from this gland.
The common palm civet is primarily frugivorous, but is omnivorous. It feeds mostly on berries and fleshy fruits. It will also eat birds, rodents and insects. It spends the day asleep in tree hollows and steps out in the dark. This particular toddy cat was fortunate enough to be spotted and rescued. But what about the others? There may be many such animals seeking shelter in the court premises during the night. Will all of them have to go through the same ‘ritual’ before celebrating their ‘ freedom’?