March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is a civet. Civets live in southeast Asia. To me they seem like a cross between a raccoon and a housecat.

This is not the civet that came within a few feet of climbing me like a tree. I didn’t get a photo of that civet because I was busy watching my life flash before my eyes. That civet was just as blurry as the one in the picture, but it was running toward me instead of trying to get away.

Let me back up. In October 2010 we went to Borneo. I didn’t talk about it much at the time, but it was amazing. Life-changing, even, in that special “I’m completely insignificant” kind of way that can only really happen in a forest full of things that can kill you and no hospitals within two hours. I wish I were there right now.

We spent some of our trip in the Danum Valley area, which is a huge swath of primary rainforest (primary rainforest has never been clear cut — visually it is more similar to the California forests I know than dense jungle I expected). While we were there, we and two other couples were assigned a guide, Sly. The nocturnal animals of Borneo (mouse deer, civets) are just as active as the diurnal (monkeys, pygmy squirrels), so Sly took us for a night hike.

We wandered around in the rain with our flashlights, Sly lifting up huge leaves so we could watch miserable-looking wet songbirds tried to sleep. He found us both a terrestrial tarantula waiting out the storm in his burrow and an arboreal tarantula. Tarantulas that live above your head, by the way? Based on the response of the folks in our group, they are the stuff of nightmares.

On our way back to the lodge, we saw two tiny red dots bouncing erratically on the road in front of us. Two slightly bigger dots appeared behind them, bouncing at a slightly slower rate. As a group, we stopped walking and watched them move. The front set of dots were only ten feet away when we realized they were the eyes of a mouse. To be more specific, they were the eyes of a terrified mouse who was running as fast as he could to escape the hungry civet chasing him.

It took a few more seconds for the second set of red dots to transform into a civet in the beams of our flashlights. By then the mouse was only a few feet in front of us, headed straight for me. Just before he ran up my leg, he made a ninety-degree turn and headed into the plants on the side of the road. The civet, though, kept on course, blinded by hunger, maybe? Instinct? Our flashlights? In any case, that civet kept charging straight at me. I couldn’t move; they run really fast for such an awkward-looking critter.

He was only a foot or so away from me when he snapped out of his trance, staggered a few steps to the side to get out of the light, and turned around to flee. The seven of us just stood there, stunned. In that moment of silence, we heard something rustling to one side of the road. Training our flashlights on the noise, we saw the mouse climbing the hillside to safety. His tiny chest was still heaving from the chase, and he stopped every few inches to rest.

That mouse owes me a beer.

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