British forces in the Iraqi city of Basra are being blamed for a plague of vicious badger-like creatures which have attacked livestock – and even humans.
Farmers have killed several ratels – desert carnivores that prey on cobras – with locals saying their arrival coincided with that of British soldiers.
advertisementBritish authorities – who are routinely blamed for many of the ills that befall Basrawis – have attempted to calm fears following reports of attacks, but to little effect.
"I was sleeping when this strange animal hit me on my head," said Suad Hassan, a 30-year-old housewife. "My husband hurried to shoot it but it was as swift as a deer."
Sattar Jabbar, a 50-year-old farmer from north of Basra said: "I saw it at night attacking animals. It even ate a cow. It tore the cow up piece by piece," he said.
"This animal appeared following a raid to the region by the British forces," said Ali Mohsen, who farms near a British air base. "They probably released this animal into the area."
Videos reported to be circulating in the city show a stocky skunk-like animal with long front claws stalking the streets, while footage of a farmer holding one of the dead beasts has been posted on the video-sharing website, YouTube.
However, Mushtaq Abdul-Mahdi, director of Basra's veterinary hospital, said that the animals have been in Iraq for decades.
"They are known locally as al-Girta," he said. "Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect."
British Army spokesman Major David Gell said the animals were thought to be a kind of honey badger – melivora capensis – which weigh up to 30lb but are usually only dangerous to humans if provoked.
"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," he said.
In: Iraq, Middle East
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