Although Cairo’s “informal” system of trash collection works surprisingly well—it’s managed, for the most part, by groups of copts who collect the trash and haul it off to “trash city,” where it is sorted and reused when possible (for example, organic waste is fed to animals)—it’s still not uncommon, even in the city’s wealthier neighbourhoods, for the streets and sidewalks to be littered with refuse, including food.
Therefore, it’s a real surprise that Cairo isn’t overrun with rats. Of course, there is no shortage of cats lounging about Cairo’s streets, but Cairenes should be thankful for another small mammal that keeps the rat and mouse population in check: the Egyptian weasel.
This mysterious animal is very small, with round ears, a fusiform body, and a short furry tale. They’re nocturnal animals that are very fast and can fit through tiny openings. In fact, the Egyptian weasel is so shy and hard to spot that it took us several months before we saw our first one, a little patch of brown fur darting underneath cars near Costa Coffee. At first, we didn’t even know what we’d seen. A squirrel? A rat? It took a bit of online searching to find out about Cairo’s underground population of mustela subpalmata, as they are known scientifically.
Now that G. and I know about the weasels, we’ve been lucky enough to glimpse one every few weeks. They usually come out at night, when they can be seen as they cross the street, darting under cars and disappearing in cracks almost as soon as we spot them. It’s virtually impossible to get a picture of them. The other morning we were lucky enough to see one almost head on, in full daylight, as we came out of a Vodafone shop. It sped across the street right in front of us and slipped away between the gratings of a garage gate.