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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Mystery how Asian jungle 'cat' came to be living wild in north Cumbria

Looking somewhere between a cat and a raccoon, this exotic creature would usually be living in the depths of Asia’s densest forests.

Palm civet photo
Cyril the palm civet

So exactly how the animal, which helps to produce the world’s most expensive coffee, came to be living in Cumbria as a regular visitor to the garden of Mandy and Dal Dawkins is a mystery.

The injured animal was first spotted by the couple, who live at Melkinthorpe, near Penrith, about a week ago.

With the help of staff at nearby Wetheriggs Animal Rescue and Conservation Centre, the couple were able to identify the black and white creature as a western palm civet.

The species is famous for the role it plays in producing the world’s most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak, extracted from droppings after the beans have passed through its digestive system. The couple set about trying to catch the animal – which they nicknamed Cyril before discovering he was actually a she – and get it help for its injured tail.

They eventually succeeded and she is now recovering at the rescue centre while staff try to trace her owner. If nobody comes forward they hope to build a new enclosure and keep her at Wetheriggs.

Mandy said they initially thought their mysterious visitor – which they caught on CCTV – was a badger.

“I went outside one day to find the bin lid had been ripped off and their was food on top of the coal bunker. The next night we caught a glimpse of Cyril and thought it was a badger,” she said. It looked more like a raccoon but we couldn’t think what else it could be. We put some cat food out the next night but it didn’t touch it. Then we tried banana and kiwi. It loved those and, I’m not joking, actually peeled the banana.”

Realising it wasn’t a badger they contacted Wetheriggs, thinking it may have escaped from the centre.

Director Terry Bowes was certain it wasn’t one of their animals, but after listening to her description suggested it may be a palm civet – some of which are kept in private collections in the UK. Mandy checked the internet and knew at once that was Cyril. She was worried about her injured tail so Terry suggested she try and entice her into their garden shed with food and lock it in.

Last Thursday, when Dal’s nine-year-old daughter Paris was staying, Mandy thought she’d succeeded. But the distressed creature ran straight out again, hissing loudly at her before fleeing.

The couple thought they’d missed their chance, but just a few hours later she was back. The next night they tried the same trick, and this time Cyril was so busy eating her banana she didn’t notice the door close.

As palm civets are nocturnal, Terry suggested they leave her overnight then collect her in the morning when she would be sleeping. The plan worked perfectly and she was taken back to the refuge in a special carrier.

Terry, who thinks she had been living in farm buildings behind the Dawkins’ garden, said: “She is a western palm civet, a bit bigger than a cat and native to Asia.

“She is a definitely an adult female and I don’t think she’s wild. I strongly suspect she has been a pet somewhere down the line, possibly even hand-reared. It’s not easy to trace because it’s not classed as a dangerous wild animal so you don’t need a licence.

“She’s quite underweight so we need to feed her up then if we can’t find the owner, we would hope to set up a fund to build a new enclosure so we can keep her here and hopefully find her a mate.”

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