Contrary to the bustling life of Goa, just two hours away lies the quaint coastal town of Malvan. Situated on the West Coast of India, it is well known for its culturally authentic cuisine, scenic beaches and the historically important Sindhudurg fort. The peak holiday season witnesses thousands of tourists flocking from various parts of the country to escape their mundane city lives. However, unlike the seasonal visitors, I’m no stranger to the zigzag roads of this town. I’ve spent most of my summer vacations here with my grandparents; looking after trees, picking mangoes and observing all the strange creatures I come across. Over the years, I’ve recorded over 70+ bird species and several reptiles, amphibians and insects. One of my greatest achievements, however, was befriending a small mongoose family. For me, this place is no short of paradise.
One night, when I was about eight years old, we saw a strange cat-like silhouette with glowing eyes on our terrace. This moment was short lived as it jumped onto the nearby tree and disappeared. Back then, the only nocturnal animal I was familiar with and which somewhat resembled a cat, was a raccoon and so for many years that followed, I told everyone we had a raccoon in Malvan, making a fool of myself!. As I grew up, that memory was carefully stored away along with the others and it was one that didn’t resurface until the summer of 2019. While on an internship in Goa, one late evening our torches caught two pairs of brightly gleaming eyes. It reminded me of that summer night all those years ago when I had the chance encounter with a similar pair of glowing eyes. Little did I know, I was yet to have my closest encounter with this elusive animal.
2020 was a year filled with uncertainty on every corner with the Covid-19 outbreak spreading like wildfire. I was in Malvan when the pandemic got out of hand and inevitably, my week-long trip lasted for 3 whole months. Thankfully, I wasn’t trapped inside four walls and could spend my days lazing on trees. While the days were rather eventful, the nights were quite monotonous. One night, while I was on the lookout for an owl hooting nearby, I stumbled upon a cat-like animal who was looking right back at me, with the familiar pair of gleaming eyes. I quickly froze, not wanting to scare it away but I immediately knew what I was looking at – an Asian Palm Civet. In the days that followed, civet sightings became more frequent and I soon realized that we were hosting a family of three individuals (perhaps a mother and 2 kittens). But with the decline in the fruiting season and the rain clouds inching closer, the family stopped visiting. I thought to myself, “This is it. No more civets.” However, this would all change on one overcast monsoon morning.
On 10th June 2020, we woke up to the cries of our compound caretaker who noticed a strange animal lying under the tamarind tree. After rushing to the spot, I noticed a traumatised and almost unresponsive sub-adult palm civet surrounded by a murder of crows. Her breathing was very shallow and I knew we had to work quickly if we intended to save her. I carefully approached her, wrapped a warm blanket around her and put her in a cardboard box to keep her safe. Unfortunately, due to the lockdown, we had absolutely no access to professional help but thankfully, the civet didn’t show any signs of an external injury.
That evening, I put the box at the exact same spot where we found her. An interesting observation I made was that while I was watching her from a distance, I could hear the calls of another civet. It sounded almost as though the two of them were communicating. Our rescue, however, refused to leave the box. So after an unsuccessful release attempt, we called it a day, hoping that the second time would be a charm. The next morning, she showed hopeful signs of recovery and I couldn’t wait to release her! Upon opening the box that evening, I could see the confusion and curiosity in her eyes. We put the box back at the release site and quietly waited at a distance. Luckily, our wait was short-lived as she quickly raised her head, looked around and climbed out of the box. For a split second, she looked back at me before disappearing into the shadows.
The joy that I felt after this brief encounter is one that I cannot express in words.