Saturday, April 07, 2007

I, Pilipino Varmint Detective

Well, we’re back from almost a week on Boracay island, in the Philippines. It was extremely beautiful and relaxing; however, the trip there and back was a little rough. To get there we had to take a taxi ride, a plane ride, a bus ride, another plane ride, a tuktuk ride, a ferry trip, a long ride in a jolting, dust-choked, rattling, swerving motorcycle sidecar, and finally a steep trek on snaking paths through a weird cliffside construction site.

It all took slightly more time than going to the moon, only it was less fun than a real moon trip because astronauts get to do cool things like poop into a vacuum tube. Man, if Kim didn’t have this weird hang-up about leaving me alone with the Electrolux, I’d be kickin it astronaut style right now.

ANYWAY, interestingly (for me), the Philippine language had a lot of words in common with Malay. Some of the basic numbers, colors, animals, vegetables etc. seemed to be almost the same. I don’t know what percentage might have been borrowed from modern Malay and what percentage might have gone back to a common ancestor, but even I could hear some similarities. Another cool thing can be seen in the picture above: all the boats around Boracay had outriggers or whatever they’re called, side thingys, which made them look sort of like they might be able to fly or transform into giant spiders or something, which I liked.

Anyway, it was a great trip and all sorts of interesting things happened, but I’ll just briefly describe one, the mysterious incident that just caused me to spend at least an hour of fruitless googling: The Nameless Varmints.

As we were lolling indolently in our bamboo beach chairs and stuffing our greasy gobs with great oozing slabs of pork and mahi-mahi one balmy evening, I noticed a commotion down the beach. Several people were crouching excitedly in a circle in the sand. Heaving my sun-blistered pink bulk slightly to the side and squinting Costanza-style until my vision was at least 20/20, I could perceive two small dark shapes swirling and spiralling around the people’s bodies, like the psychotic Jewish ghosts from the end of Raiders or the CGI scarabs from that mummy movie. This called for closer investigation.

Approaching the group of people, I saw that it consisted of several cooing German tourists and a small local family who had apparently brought two wild jungle animals out onto the beach, possibly to sell them to German tourists. They were small and ferret-like - the animals, not the Germans - with soft, jet-black fur, cute little foxy faces and long, fluffy tails. I preliminarily diagnosed them as seeming to fall within the spectrum of ferrety, mongoosy, stoaty, marteny, minky sorts of creatures. “What are those? What are they called?” I asked the man who had found them, he said, in the forest near a construction site. “Wild cats?” he offered, but without the air of zoological certitude you’d like to see in a case like this. He sounded like he was just making the name up on the spot. I nodded and returned to my chair.

The fun was not over, however, for the family sitting next to us had seen the critters and one of the women borrowed one of them. So for the rest of their meal I got to observe the little beast crawling all over the torsos of the people sitting next to us, licking their faces, sniffing their ears, and so on. It was really quite cute and apparently harmless and unafraid of people, but I was a bit disturbed that they’d brought an unknown feral jungle creature to the dinner table with them.

My guess that it was a mongoose was met with grunts of indifference from the family, who were more interested in taking pictures than comparative zoomorphology. I guess anyone stupid enough to allow a wild animal to cavort around their dinner table is probably stupid enough to be content with the idea that it’s some kind of very small, thin cat. I was sort of relieved when they returned the furry organism to its finders. It seems extremely likely to me that they contracted badger AIDS or something from the mystery weasel, and I pray that their deaths will come swiftly and painlessly.

So, back here in my command center and with the vast and naughty resources of the Internet at my beck, I assumed that I’d be able to ID the hairy little objects with scant difficulty. I was wrong. Dead wrong. (Note that I didn't say “... at my beck and call”. Just beck. Why does call always have to be included? I think we should bring back beck.)

After hours of surfing the closest I came was that the things remind me of martens, a North American version of which you can see above, cavorting in the snow. I think Organism X looked just like that picture, except with black fur and no snow. But I’m not sure they have martens around Boracay, and unfortunately the closest-looking animals native to the area seem to be the following two sad specimens:

1) The horrid, scrawny, coffee-pooping musang or civet cat, seen above glaring off into the distance in psychopathic rage, and which seems too short-haired, nasty and spotted to be our culprit, and

2) The revolting, burly, whiskery, slothy binturong or bearcat, a wretched, scruffy beast which looks like the deformed lovechild of a dying koala bear and an obese wolverine, and whose curiously intelligent, baleful eyes seem to be begging the viewer to put it out of its misery. If there’s any animal which I despised the instant I saw its picture, it’s that accursed binturong thing. I’m probably going to have nightmares about it.

So I’m no closer to cracking this case than I was before; the critters were probably some sort of marten or stoat but that’s as far as I think science can take me. And now I’ve got the ghastly, indelible thought that some fine morning I’ll throw open my bedroom window and there’ll be a binturong staring in at me. God that thing gives me the willies.


Mbala said...

Poor binturong. You might have a different opinion if you got to see a binturong baby first, they are really cute. You should also read (and meditate upon) the following site:

albtraum said...

Mbala -

They do sound like very interesting and unique animals! Also, several online sources mention that they give off a powerful odor of fresh cornbread, so they've got that going for them too.

I think I was just disturbed because I was looking for something that looked like a ferret, and I read a written description of the binturong and thought, "maybe that's it!". Then I saw the picture. That was NOT it. They don't look like ferrets at all. More like seals dressing up as tree sloths for Halloween. Which, obviously, is cool in its own way.

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