12 Jul 2007

British Blamed for Beast of Basra

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There is a bloody brave little animal in Africa called the honey badger. It may be the meanest animal in the world. It kills for malice and for sport, and it does not go for the jugular– it goes straight for the groin. — Robert Ruark

0:52 video of Iraqi proudly holding up a specimen… a big specimen!

IRAQSlogger Zeyad Kasim tells a tale of nightime fear gripping the native villagers of Southern Iraq.

For over a month now, people in Basrah have been circulating rumors about a “strange,” bear-like deadly creature that attacks people at night with its strong claws. Locals in rural areas around Basrah claim it has killed three people and injured six others, and that it usually pounces on its victims as they are sleeping outdoors during hot summer nights, when electric power outages are common. Farmers at Garmat Ali, Abu Skheer, Jisr and Shikhatta were so alarmed, they assigned guarding duties at night to prevent its attacks, the Nahrain website and Radio Sawa reported last week.

Eventually, several animals were caught or killed – up to 28, locals claimed – and cell phone videos of them were published on Iraqi websites and forums. The dead creatures look like honey badgers, compact but vicious omnivores that typically consume insects and small animals. Honey badgers are more prevalent in Iran–their presence in Iraq dwindled after the destruction of the salt marsh habitat in the south.

Residents of Garmat Ali, north west of Basrah, hanged one of the killed badgers on the Garma bridge that connects the southern city to the main Baghdad-Basrah highway, according to Mudhar Nazar, a resident interviewed by the pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily. “It looks like a dog, but its head looks like that of a bear,” said Nazar. “It has short hands and 15-cm-long claws, long hair, a penis like a man’s, and it only moves around at night.”

The animal is known locally as the Garta or ‘the muncher,’ and mothers in Basrah used to tell scary stories about the Garta to their children so they would not wander out alone at night. Old families in Basrah believe the animal brings bad luck because it is mostly found in cemeteries at night. The unusual phenomenon, however, is their sudden appearance in large numbers near the city and their increasingly aggressive behavior.

The rumors led people to indulge in conspiracy theories, speculating that U.S. or British forces have dropped large numbers of this animal, or its “eggs,” around Basrah in order to spread chaos and instability, while others say the animal crossed over from neighboring Iran through the marshes.

The mysterious origin of the badgers has become the talk of the town and outlandish stories have proliferated in Basrah as a result, local Slogger sources say. People are now sharing stories about British troops unleashing stray dogs – which locals have described as German Shepherds, known in Iraq as “police dogs.” British troops often release military dogs, used to detect explosives, on the streets when they become too old to perform their duties, said Abbas Kadhim, an Iraqi policeman in Basrah, according to Al-Hayat.

In the orchards of Abu Al-Khasib (20 km south east of Basrah), locals are talking about huge 6-metre-long snakes in water creeks, with one fisherman even claiming a seal (sea lion) fell into his nets. Fisherman in Faw, near the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, also claimed to have caught two dolphins in the Shatt Al-Arab waterway.

Authorities in Basrah have not commented on the rumors, but Dr. Mishtaq Abdul Mahdi, director of the Basrah Veterinary Hospital, dismissed them as nonsense and revealed that the honey badger is actually an indigenous animal that has been present in the marshes of southern Iraq and rural areas around Basrah for decades, in an interview with WNA News.

Dr. Abdul Mahdi said the hospital has so far received three of the badgers killed by farmers in Garmat Ali, Shikhatta and Abu Sikheer.

The BBC reports:

British forces have denied rumours that they released a plague of ferocious badgers into the Iraqi city of Basra.

Word spread among the populace that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic.

But several of the creatures, caught and killed by local farmers, have been identified by experts as honey badgers.

The rumours spread because the animals had appeared near the British base at Basra airport.

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: “We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.

“We have been told these are indigenous nocturnal carnivores that don’t attack humans unless cornered.”

The director of Basra’s veterinary hospital, Mushtaq Abdul-Mahdi, has inspected several of the animals’ corpses.

He said: “These appeared before the fall of the regime in 1986. They are known locally as Al-Girta.

“Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect and unscientific.”

London Times story:

British forces operating around the southern Iraqi city of Basra are being blamed for the arrival of a plague of vicious badgers that stalk the streets at night, attacking livestock and even humans.

Local farmers have caught and killed several of the beasts, but this has done nothing to dispel rumours of a bear-like monster that eats humans and was, according to the local rumour mill, released into the area by UK forces to spread panic.

Major David Gell, a British Army spokesman, said the animals were thought to be a kind of honey badger or ratel – melivora capensis – which can be fierce but are not usually dangerous to humans unless provoked.

The animals are indigenous to Africa and large parts of the Middle East and are about the same size as European European badgers but much more aggressive, with long claws and strong jaws. They have been described in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most fearless animal.

“They are native to the region but rare in Iraq. They’re nocturnal carnivores with a fearsome reputation, but they don’t stalk humans and carry them back to their lair,” Major Gell said.

Iraqi scientists have attempted to calm the public but the story of the British badgers has spread like wildfire through Basra and the surrounding villages.

Mushtaq Abdul-Mahdi, director of Basra’s veterinary hospital, has inspected the corpses of several dead badgers and sought to reassure his fellow citizens that they are not new to the region but had been seen well before Saddam’s ouster in 2003.

“Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect and unscientific,” Mr Abdul-Mahdi told AFP.

But their numbers are increasing, possibly, scientists say, because Iraqi authorities are trying to reflood marshlands north of Basra that were drained under Saddam Hussein.

So far neither the scientists nor the soldiers have been able to calm the populace’s fears.

The ferocious creature is none other than Bob Ruark’s brave, bloody Honey Badger, Mellivora capensis, native “throughout most of Africa and western and south Asian areas of Baluchistan (eastern Iran), southern Iraq, Pakistan and Rajasthan (western India).”


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