Kancil the mouse-deer
By Wan Chwee Seng
They stand among the shrubs and flowers, silent sentinels of our small garden. Unperturbed by the scorching heat of the tropical sun or the torrential downpour of the seasonal monsoon rain, they keep a timeless watch on the garden.
The two guards are just man-made mouse-deer _ the creation of a retiree, perhaps during a moment of inspiration triggered by a childhood memory.
|They stand among the shrubs and flowers|
Now, as I look at the two weather-beaten ‘mouse-deer’ they bring back fond memories of another mouse-deer. A live mouse-deer which was our family pet.
|Silent sentinels of our garden|
It was the early 1950s and we were then living in Kuala Pilah , a small town in Malaysia. Father was working as a chief clerk in the State Forest Department and our family stayed in one of the government quarters in the Residential Area.
|Government quarters in the Residential Area|
Our house was a semi-detached wooden house which stood on concrete stilts with a detached kitchen connected to the main house by a covered corridor. A high plank walls with pointed tips enclosed the kitchen and a spacious air-well.
|Our house at 246 B, Residential Area, Kuala Pilah|
One evening, as we sat at the raised veranda of the house, we saw father cycling home on his old Raleigh bicycle followed closely by a uniformed forest guard. When they approached the house, we noticed the guard was carrying an open box in his arms. Curious, we took a peep. Inside the box was a strange-looking animal which was slightly larger than an adult’s palm.
Father told us it was a baby mouse-deer and we could keep it for a pet. We did not take an instant liking to it, as unlike the cute, cuddly puppy or kitten we used to see, the baby mouse-deer had mouse-like face with big bulging eyes and spindly legs.
According to father, some forest guards who was on duty in the jungle had stumbled upon the baby mouse-deer. They assumed its mother must have been killed by poachers as it was nowhere in sight. Knowing that the baby mouse-deer would not be able to survive in the wild on its own, they brought it back to the office and handed it to the District Forest Officer. The latter persuaded father to get the help of our family to look after the mouse-deer until it was strong enough to be given to the zoo.
|Father with some of the forest guards|
With eight children to raise, mother was now entrusted with the additional task of caring for a baby mouse-deer. It had to be bottle-fed with milk as it was still too small to feed on vegetables. With careful weaning and proper care, we discovered it had grown into quite an attractive animal with big, bright eyes and a sleek, reddish brown coat with a triangular white pattern that ran from the chin to the throat.
Having heard and read many stories about Sang Kancil, the wily mouse-deer who used to outwit its bigger predators like the tiger and crocodile, we decided to name it Kancil.
Kancil soon outgrew its box. A fairly large space under the house was fenced off with chicken wire and turned into an enclosure where Kancil could roam freely within the security of its confines. To enable us to feed Kancil, the front of the enclosure was fitted with a low fence which overlooked the air-well. Kancil was now able to feed on greens, usually the leaves of sweet potatoes which we would place in the enclosure together with a bowl of water. Whenever we went to the nearby market, we would remember to buy sweet potato leaves for Kancil. We like to hold the leaves over the fence and watch it nibbled the leaves while eyeing us with its huge, captivating eyes. As Kancil grew in strength, so did our love for her.
One day when we went to feed Kancil, we found the enclosure was empty. Had it escape or fallen victim to a predator? Worried, we made a long and frantic search for it. We finally found it ensconced snugly among a clump of banana trees behind the kitchen. We tried to pick it up, but it bounded from its hiding place and scurried away. Shouting and laughing we gave chase, but it raced along the wall, leaped over a drain and ran circle in the spacious air-well. Breathless and exhausted, we finally gave up the chase. Then from the corner of our eyes we saw it standing at the air-well with a forlorn and dejected look, perhaps, wondering why we had decided to end the enjoyable game. Later, we were surprised and puzzled to find it had sneaked back into its enclosure. Since we could not find any hole in the fencing, we assumed it must have jumped over the low fence.
One morning when we went to feed Kancil, we discovered it had gone missing again. Then we spotted it at the air-well, among the pigeons and house sparrows. Mother had placed a piece of bread for the birds, but Kancil was laying claim to it. It was obviously relishing its newly discovered delicacy as it was busy keeping the birds at bay. We did not try to catch it, as we knew it would eventually return to its enclosure. The next morning and on subsequent mornings, we would find it eating and sharing its bread with its feathered friends.
Then one evening father told us that Kancil was big and healthy enough to be handed to the zoo. One day we watched as a truck slowly rolled onto the grass compound of our house and we knew the dreaded day had finally arrived. We all felt sad at having to part with our pet mouse-deer, but the thought of Kancil bringing countless joy and thrill to kids and other visitors to the zoo gave us some consolation.