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Return of the Civet

Return of the Civet

Shalini Kala

Read about the thrilling encounter with a mysterious animal, suspected to be a Civet cat, on a 6th-floor balcony. Follow the efforts to rescue and understand the creature in this captivating wildlife incident.

0915 Sunday morning: My frantic message to my building mates and the general neighbourhood on respective WhattsApp groups:

“Hi: Need urgent advice. Is there a helpline for wild animal rescue that operates here? We have a strange-looking animal on our 6th-floor balcony under a stool. Though we can’t see it very well it could be a Civet that is probably injured or dying. It’s making weird loud noises when we try to get closer to take a look or get a picture. Thanks”

0905: I am in the kitchen fixing breakfast when I hear “aaaaahhhh, dhad dhad whoosh”. U, our cleaning maid is visibly disturbed, one hand holding the broom and the other on her chest indicating some breathlessness, and stumbles into the kitchen.


I: Did you close the balcony door?

U: No (still shaking)

I walk swiftly through the bedroom and lock the balcony door.

I: We haven’t adopted any animal. What did you see? Where is it?

U: Look under that stool in the corner.

I look through the large windows but the fixed mesh seems like a barrier to a clear view. So, I open the door gingerly and take a look from 5 feet away. U is insisting I shouldn’t go out. The stool is 12 inches high. The visible area through the stool is divided into two parts from the floor up to the 9-inch mark and it is 10 inches wide. There is a dark, slightly furry mass that I can’t make a head or tail of. Actually, the only thing that makes sense is the tail, everything else is fuzzy, shapeless, obscure. The lack of sunlight in that corner doesn’t help. There is no movement either, maybe a slight one that I can’t detect. I take a picture, and enlarge it to see if I can identify it – the picture is worse than what the naked eye sees. Could it be a dog or a cat? No, this is the 6th floor. Dogs can’t come up here. There is nothing for the cat to make this kind of effort. Maybe a giant size rodent; that could be it. I call S, who has just walked in with his grocery shopping, to investigate. Once more the balcony door is opened with cries of “Be careful” playing in the background.

S: Can’t see this creature clearly. It has to be something that can climb up to such heights. Hmmmmm…..Could it be a Civet? (Starts googling without a second’s delay).

0730: I am back from walking on the beach, the weather has been sultry. I rush in for a cool shower. Within minutes I am out on the balcony hanging the towel to dry 5 cm from the stool. I hear some strange sounds “grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whuff, whuff”; the same pattern repeated about three times with a break of 10 seconds each time. I look around and think someone’s drilling machine is giving trouble. But, wait it is Sunday, who on earth is trying to drill at this hour in the morning? I see a pair of lazy legs on the balcony below, that one is definitely not drilling. Another immediate neighbour is watering plants. Couldn’t be that either; the sound is too loud and forceful for a malfunctioning spray bottle. I saunter back to relax a bit after losing so much sweat during a rather short walk. Let the drillers drill.

0700: S wakes up and starts to get ready for his Sunday cricket match. Goes to the balcony to fetch his t-shirt that has been drying on the clothesline. Hears a few “grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whuff, whuff”. Looks around because he thinks it is some animal but can’t see anything. Leaves home with grocery bags for his match first, followed by what he loves more than anything else – shopping!!

Just before 0905: U starts sweeping the balcony, she reaches close to the stool. And then, the “grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whuff, whuff” with a small head poking out, mouth open with sharp teeth visible (we are told later), frightens her into running helter-skelter towards the kitchen.

0918: S is calling the police because he is now almost certain that that inscrutable dark mass is a Civet cat and in the intervening 3 minutes no one on the WhatsApp groups has responded to our urgent who-do-we-contact cry for help – they might be experiencing the phenomenon called “Sunday”. And S is prone to running while solving problems.

S: Hello, is this the police station?

The voice on the other side: Yes

S: We have a wild animal on our balcony that needs to be taken away.

VOOS: What can we do? We are the police, we help solve crimes.

S: I called you to find out if you could point us to the right agency to call and maybe you also have their contact number.

VOOS: You need to call the Forest Department. I have one number. Please take it down….

S: Thanks (as he scribbles the phone number)

0919: Meanwhile, two forest department contact numbers land on my WhattsApp window from a member of the neighbourhood group, I don’t know this good samaritan. I look up and hear….

S: Is this the forest department

VOOS in the Forest Department office: Yes.

S: We have a wild animal on our balcony that needs to be taken away. I think it’s a Civet cat.

VOOSFDO: How do you know it’s a Civet cat? What is it doing? Can you send us a picture?

S: It is under a stool, partially hidden and not visible. The picture we are taking is not very clear. It looks like it has no energy, not moving at all, maybe it is injured or dying. It makes strange sounds when we go close to it.

Civet hiding under the stool
Civet hiding under the stool

VOOSFDO: Ok. It could be a Civet. I am giving you a phone number and name. They will contact you in about 15 minutes. Where are you located?

S: (detailed explanation of our building and flat location, how to reach, what to tell the guard at the gate etc.)

I: Someone sent me the contact details of the Forest department.

S: Show me (peeps into my phone). It is the same number that I called just now. Wait, wait you have two numbers, let me take down the other one too. (scribble, scribble)

0930: The relevant Forest official calls S, another round of directions to the location. They promise to reach within 15 minutes.

0932: I ask S to finish his breakfast before the rescue team arrives as it is getting cold. I reheat my 30-minute old tea – all the excitement has not dulled my hunger. U and her cousin get on with the sweeping and other cleaning tasks. The mopping bucket is on top of the stool, its usual resting place. I tell U to let mopping enjoy a Sunday holiday. She’s relieved.

On asking what the Civet cat eats, S, the googling master, reads out a list that includes fruit. I pick up a few pieces of watermelon from the breakfast table, put them on a plastic plate, and push it toward the animal. There is some movement, but in a second the head rolls back on the floor. Over the last half hour and more, this animal has not moved much. Is it injured, dying, or dead already – thoughts flood in as the mind races.


S: Please wake up the teen, she also needs to see all this.

I: She won’t wake up, she probably slept at 3 am in the morning.

S: Doesn’t matter, even if she doesn’t want to, wake her up and show her the animal.

I: What’s so exciting about this animal, it is not clearly visible, it isn’t even moving and is probably dead already.

And yet…..

I: (very gently) Good morning my darling. There is a wild animal on our balcony, would you like to see it?

N: What? What time is it? Why are you waking me up?

I: To see the wild animal on our balcony. Papa said you’d be upset if I didn’t wake you up before the rescue team takes it away.

N: What? Rescue team?

I: Yes, the Forest department staff is coming to take it away with them to release in a forested area.

N: Where is it? (N is up in a jiffy looking for her spectacles, we trot off to the bedroom balcony for the viewing).

N: It is just a dark grey, black thing.

I: Papa says it’s probably a Civet cat. (my tea has gone cold again)

N: Is that really an animal? Could be a piece of cloth that flew in here from another flat above ours?

I: It is making noises when we get close to it.

N: What animal is that?

I: Google, please. Let me make a short video, it will probably not be very clear but maybe we can see something to make out the shape of the animal at least.

N: Why are those pieces of watermelon lying on the floor?

I: I was trying to get the animal out to eat them so that I could observe it more clearly in the light.

N: And?

I: It looked at it for a second, and then didn’t move even a millimeter.

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Bapi with his "Green Taxi Bapi"

0950: S gets a call, two members of the forest staff are at the gate of the building. In 2 minutes they arrive at our flat with a rectangular plastic mesh basket and are guided straight to the balcony door which they open fearlessly. They look closely and discuss something in the local language, that is as incomprehensible to us as the shape of the creature. They confirm it is a Civet.

A long cylinder-shaped black bag is taken out of the basket along with a blue stick, which when unfolded reveals a long steel rod curved at the end. This is the poking stick, we discover. The clothes stand is pushed towards the balcony door to make space. I can see the watermelon is going to get crushed under the feet of these focused men. The phone of S is in video mode, he is in the film director’s role, ready to shoot the action – and I am almost sure the footage will be useless. Four women watch from the large window next to the door. We can’t see very much, just the two rescue team members.

The plastic basket is placed strategically on one side of the two open sides of the stool – the two others are closed as it is placed in one corner of the rectangular balcony. The bag is placed on the other side. The poking begins that results in a couple of “grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whuff, whuff”. The animal is seen wriggling but refuses to get into the plastic basket or the black bag. There is some more incomprehensible conversation among the men after which one pulls out orange and black rescue gloves and wears them. He will probably pull the Civet out with his hand. The poking starts again, the men are light on their feet, moving around quickly. Alas, the Civet doesn’t seem to be convinced or impressed, it shows them some real skillful movement and jumps out of the balcony at dazzling speed. Our mouths open in shock and trepidation. Did it jump down to the ground from the 6th floor?!!

I: What happened? Is it injured? Will it die?

All three men are looking out of the balcony, half of their bodies hanging in the air at strange angles oblivious to my cries. I rush out and poke into that crowd, seeking my answers. The Civet is now on our bathroom ledge hiding under the pipe, within seconds he’s gone back to looking almost dead. The voices, and noises emanating from 6 adults and 1 healthy teen don’t bother it one bit. I can almost hear it snore, almost; we can hardly see it from our balcony now. The area that it rests in now is like a shaft open on top and on one side length-wise. It is hard to reach. How about taking a look at the Civet from the neighbouring balcony?

The Civet hiding near the Pipe
The Civet hiding under the pipe near the bathroom ledge

0957: One rescue team member and S walk to the neighbour’s, ring their bell, and S tells them that the forest rescue team wants to inspect a wild animal from their balcony. They look confused, they have missed WhatsApp messages, and the excitement on our balcony which is otherwise clearly visible from theirs. A, the lady of the house thinks there is a wild animal on their balcony and can’t smell her burning breakfast. I march in with the legitimate familiarity that I have with this household, particularly A. She is my morning walk partner. I tell her she should focus on breakfast, I will do the rest. The forest official follows me, I point to him the place from where he should look out. Now 60 percent of his body is hanging out at a really strange angle, I gently tell him to be careful.

He confers with his team member on our balcony – we still don’t understand their exchanges. A long stick is called for, I rush back to get the cobweb-cleaning extendable duster. U hands it to me in a jiffy; by the time I am back, another such contraption has appeared in A’s flat but it seems that it is not reaching the animal. Another round of rescue team discussion, that we hear like the proverbial “village idiots”. Water is asked for this time. A bucket and jug are placed next to the forest official; he starts throwing water swaying dangerously away from the balcony, at the Civet. After 5 or 6 jugs of water are thrown in its direction, the Civet has had it. It climbs down the pipes and chooses to stop at the space under the pipe of the second-floor bathroom ledge.

1004: After disturbing everyone – apart from A there is her mum, mum-in-law, and husband – and their breakfast in the neighbouring flat, I get to our balcony where S and the other member of the rescue team are observing the Civet’s barely and only partly visible tail. N is lazing around. I point to the tail on the second-floor ledge for U, her cousin, and N. Everyone, including me, is straining their eyes to pin the location. It is bright and sunny but the shaft doesn’t get much sun yet as it faces the west.

The rescue is now abandoned. I ask the team what to expect. They brief us quickly and leave. We thank them.

0850: U is late today. She walks in with her cousin in tow who has recently shifted here and is looking for work. Walking has made them sweat, they immediately go to the balcony to get refreshed by the breeze. U walks into the kitchen in 3 minutes, the cousin sits on the balcony 2 feet away from the stool for about 10 minutes of the unadulterated joy of soaking in the cool breeze. Unknown (as yet) to the rest of those in the house, she looks at the dark mass and it looks back, not moving very much. She assumes it is our pet dog resting from a hard night’s work guarding our 6th-floor flat.

1010: U and her cousin are done with the cleaning and the excitement. The cousin narrates her tryst with the Civet earlier to a rapt audience.

1030: Another message to my building mates and the neighbourhood group:

“Update on the wild animal: The forest department people were very quick. They came within 15 mins of our calling them but they couldn’t catch it. It was a Civet cat and it escaped to the difficult-to-reach shaft area a few floors down. Civet is not active during the day. Forest guys expect it to leave the premises at night”.

Messages started to pour in from the building mates

1041: That’s not reassuring for the floor below ‘laughing emoji’

1044: It can also climb back ‘wildly laughing emoji’

1048: I could sense the emotion building up and had to send out another message to allay fears of ‘The Civet Attack’:

“It is a wild animal, true. But it is not active during the day. Very lethargic. Observing it over half an hour or more I thought it was dying or dead. In fact, both Sanjay and I had been on the balcony for about 10 mins each at different times in the morning and we didn’t even notice it. Also, it likely came to get pigeon eggs at night and having over-eaten found a spot to rest a bit and slept off. As soon as day broke it became very lethargic and didn’t want to leave. I doubt it wants to have anything to do with humans, let alone visit different floors. There is a lot of stuff to read on Civets on the Internet which you may find interesting. They probably come every night and regulate the pigeon population. This greedy, intrepid, sleepy one just let us know that they visit Sonata! This information is as per the forest officers. PS: I am waiting with my phone to get a better click if the Civet decides to come back”.

A lone building mate found the rare sighting exciting and lucky. We agreed. Another alluded to the similarity between teens and Civet cats.

1100 to 1900: At frequent and periodic intervals the Civet had to suffer a survey by me. As it became comfortable with little disturbance, I could witness its increasingly relaxed body. From just a part of its long tail being visible, I ended up seeing almost 80 percent of it. One time I even managed to attract its attention with glutaral sounds and there was eye contact for a brief second. At 1800 the family whose breakfast we had interrupted trooped in to see the animal from our balcony, a well-deserved sighting.

The next morning as predicted by the rescue team, the Civet had vanished. I notice that we were also left free of the pigeons who have colonised the shaft – that was an amazing gift. I am fervently hoping for the return of the Civet.

The following Sunday
15:30 : The bell rings, and I open the door to my slightly anxious-looking neigbour.

I: What happened?

M: That animal is on our balcony, sitting in a bucket. Can I have the rescue team’s contact details?

(With some difficulty I shut my mouth that had opened probably in sheer surprise that my wish had come true. I share the phone numbers and assure them that they will get a quick response even though it is a Sunday.)

16:30 The bell rings again. This time the animal has been caught and is being taken to a forested area for release. I get the rescue video later.

Early Monday morning, we have all the pigeons back, happily cooing and pooing all over the bathroom ledge. Damn!


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