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The animal on the cover of Beyond Java is a bassaris. The bassaris (Bassaris astuta) is a North American carnivore found in Mexico, Texas, and California. About the size of a typical domestic cat, the bassaris is closely related to the raccoon and fox.
This brown- or tan-furred animal has a black-and-white-ringed tail that grows as long as the length of its body. The size of the tail provides balance for negotiating narrow ledges and limbs, and even allowsthe animal to reverse direction by performing a cartwheel. It can rotate its hind feet 180 degrees, giving it the ability to rapidly descend cliffs or trees, as well as cacti.
The bassaris is a nocturnal, non-aggressive creature. It lives in caves, crevices, and hollow trees, and has been found in abandoned buildings and even attics of occupied dwellings. It has been known to visit campsites and rummage through gear, sometimes taking items—especially shiny ones. An agile climber, it negotiates trees and sheer rock faces with ease.
Foraging mainly at night on small birds, rodents, lizards, snakes, invertebrates, and fruit, the bassaris will also regularly consume carrion. Fruit is a main component of its diet, and this may reduce its need for water.
Trapped for fur in some locations, the bassaris is also frequently tamed as a pet, especially in parts of Mexico. It is called by several different names, including the mountain cat, civit cat, and cat squirrel. The Mexican name for this creature is cacomixl. Its scientific name (bassaris) stems from the Greek word for fox, and in some Greek mythological tales, Dionysus wears a bassaris, which symbolizes new life.