In 2007, 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. They closely resemble skunks, or most likely hog badgers – omnivorous mammals that are typically found in the Arab peninsula, but more commonly in the rainforests of Southeast Asia.
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 hog 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.
According to one source, this Iraqi “mystery animal” certainly looks like the ratel (Mellivora capensis).The ratels or honey badgers are distributed throughout most of Africa and western and south Asian areas of Baluchistan (eastern Iran), Pakistan and Rajasthan (western India). Are they moving into Iraq? Are they being transported into Iraq from Iran? Is it a sinister plot? Have the animals spread into Iraq on their own? Or perhaps recent distribution ranges have overlooked Mellivora capensis in Iraq and a little paranoia is afoot?
According to The Mammals of Iraq by Robert T. Hatt (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1959), the honey badger or ratel were found in Iraq at least through the 1950s. Marsh drainage has hurt the survival of the honey badger there today, but certainly it appears some are still being encountered around Basrah.
Within cryptozoology, the honey badger/ratel is one of the known species which has been blamed for some mysterious aggressive attacks on humans in Africa. The cryptid discussed in this regard is the elusive Nandi Bear, as per Bernard Heuvelmans and others. Frank Lane, an early cryptozoological author, wrote the Nandi Bear was as well-known as the Yeti, in its day.
The ratel has been named the most fearless animal in the Guinness Book of World Records for a number of years.
Ultimately, it seems, the Garta may be nothing more than a natural alert that the ratels survive in Iraq, in spite of a war and villagers killing them.