The tale of a peculiar theft

The second lockdown was ongoing, and Covid-19 was raging in its full glory. We have been working from home for quite a while — the state government decided to restrict all local transports due to high numbers of daily infections. We transformed our apartment into our home offices. My laptop found its position atop the dining table in the hall. My wife took her lap desk and took possession of the bed in our second bedroom. After a day, both our laptops, along with their accessories — earphones, power cables and mice, would retire on this particular bed.

It was such a typical summer day. I woke up in the morning, and after freshening up, went to fetch my laptop. To my surprise, I found that the rubber tips of my earphones were missing. To be honest, the earphones were a couple of years old by that point, and the rubber tips were a bit loose. My first reaction was that they fell off somewhere, so I searched for a few minutes inside the room but did not find them. Then my eyes fell on the earphones of my wife — and they had the same fate! Hers were pretty new, and the chance of all four of the ear tips becoming loose and falling off was slim. Apart from these two, I had one more earphone which was bought recently. It was kept on top of a trunk beside the bed — and the ear tips were gone!

A terrible heatwave was going on for a few days, and we kept all the windows and doors inside the apartment open. My first hunch was that some animal came through the windows and did the massacre. The ear tips were not chewed — they were removed cleanly. There were no bite marks on the earphones, and they did not move that much from their original position. Monkeys/langurs are capable of doing such, but the grills on the windows are much too narrow for them to come inside. Rats have damaged my earphones before, but they generally chew on them and do not surgically remove ear tips. There are several domestic cats nearby, but I doubt any of them had the required precision. I have grown up among plenty of cats in my neighbourhood, and have never seen or heard an incident similar to this where the culprit was a cat. My last guess was an elusive creature, which I had always heard about but never had the chance to see myself. While this train of thought was running in my mind, my eyes found a piece of evidence near one side of the bed. I ran to the other room to inform my wife of the incident. She was dumbfounded for a while and was trying to solve the crime in her head. In the meantime, I went again to the other room to fetch my phone. I came back to find that she threw away the evidence out the window in disgust, without giving me a chance to take a photo. It was several pieces of faeces left by the thief. Being cylindrical shaped with tapered ends and greenish brown colour, they were quite large compared to those of rats.

In any case, the rubber tips being missing was not such a big deal. Fortunately, we had plenty of tips stored from previous earphones, which came in handy. We decided that we would have to keep the windows and door of the room at night. Still, as we were not in the habit of doing so, we mistakenly kept them open again after a couple of days. I woke up the next day to find, once again, that the tips of both the earphones were gone. The third earphone was kept inside my backpack, and it had not been tampered with. We were pissed this time — this was too much. Even though it was a mistake on our part — we forgot to close the windows the previous night, we cursed the thief for a while and then went to find spare ear tips.

One evening a few days later, my wife spotted something moving on the terrace of the next building. It was already dark; we could only make out a silhouette sitting on the wall on the terrace and occasionally looking down. I quickly went to take out my camera. It had not been used for a while, had no charge left. Praying that the creature stayed in its spot for some time, I put the battery to charge and waited impatiently while staring at the darkness. As it was dark, I needed to use the flash, which would burn out the battery quickly and thus, a little more juice was required. After about five minutes, I lost patience and took the camera to the balcony. Fortunately, there was enough charge to click a few pictures with flash. I pointed the lens to the direction where the silhouette was spotted and quickly clicked some photos. As we guessed, it was indeed an Asian palm civet (a.k.a. common palm civet, Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) sitting in the dark (Link: iNaturalist observation).

Asian palm civet (Copyright: author)
Asian palm civet (Copyright: author)

Disclaimer: We have absolutely no direct proof that an Asian palm civet was behind the peculiar theft, or that this particular individual was responsible. Our guess was based on assumptions and logical eliminations. Thief or not, the curiosity generated by the incident was responsible for the sighting of this elusive creature — locally known as ‘bhaam’ or ‘bhaam biral’. I have heard about these civets from childhood, and have found their faeces on our roof on several occasions, but have never seen one before. They are nocturnal and enter into houses during the night, causing people to identify them as nuisances. A report in Mint from 2017 states that the activity of civets in Kolkata has increased in the past few years, causing the forest department to rescue them regularly from houses. The author recalls several instances of encountering civets in his place. People are generally afraid of them, believing that they attack humans and even consider them bad omens. The report states that even though civets have been present in and around Kolkata for 100 years, the recent increase in sightings can be attributed to the possible increase in numbers in different pockets of the city. Though the common palm civets generally eat fruits, the author of a blog post from 2008 recalls how a civet may have possibly been responsible for the death of a litter of kittens in their house — although there was no proof of the murderer being a civet. The bottom line is that people do not have a positive attitude towards them, and increased activity in the urban household does not help their cause. No matter what nuisance they cause — whether stealing food from or leaving excrement in your house — they have been our neighbours for a long time and are part of the urban ecosystem. Curse them for their mischiefs, restrict their entry into your house, but do not harm them.

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A nature-enthusiast appreciating technology, and a technology-obsessed exploring nature.

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Bishwarup Paul

Bishwarup Paul

A nature-enthusiast appreciating technology, and a technology-obsessed exploring nature.

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