Asian palm civet
Binomial name: Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, Peter Simon Pallas, 1777
The Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), also called toddy cat, is a small member of the Viverridae family native to South and Southeast Asia. In 2008, the IUCN classified the species as Least Concern as it is tolerant of a broad range of habitats, is widely distributed with large populations that are unlikely to be declining.
The Asian palm civet is a small, mottled gray and black viverrid weighing 2 to 5 kg. It has a body length of about 53 cm with a 48 cm long tail. Its long, stocky body is covered with coarse, shaggy hair that is usually greyish in color. There is a white mask across the forehead, a small white patch under each eye, a white spot on each side of the nostrils, and a narrow dark line between the eyes. The muzzle, ears, lower legs, and distal half of the tail are black, with three rows of black markings on the body. The tail is without rings, unlike in similar civet species. Anal scent glands emit a nauseating secretion as a chemical defense when threatened or upset. Despite its species name hermaphroditus, the civets (like all other mammals) have two distinct sexes and are not hermaphrodites.
Distribution and habitat
Asian palm civets are native to India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei Darussalam, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Philippines and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Bawean and Siberut. They were introduced to Irian Jaya, the Lesser Sunda Islands, Maluku, Sulawesi and Japan. In Papua New Guinea, their presence is uncertain.
They normally inhabit primary forests, but also occur at lower densities in secondary and selectively logged forest.
They also inhabit parks and suburban gardens with mature fruit trees, fig trees and undisturbed vegetation. Their sharp claws allow them to climb trees and house gutters. In most parts of Sri Lanka, palm civets are considered a nuisance since they litter in ceilings and attics of common households, and make loud noises fighting and moving about at night.
Ecology and behaviour
Asian palm civets are believed to lead a solitary lifestyle, except for brief periods during mating. They are both terrestrial and arboreal, showing nocturnal activity patterns with peaks between late evening until after midnight. They are usually active between 6:00 pm and 4:00 am, being less active during nights when the moon is brightest.
Scent marking behaviour and olfactory response to various excretions such as secretion of the perineal gland, urine and feces differs in males and females. Scent marking by dragging the perineal gland and leaving the secretion on the substrate was most commonly observed in animals of both sexes. The olfactory response varied by duration and depended both on the sex and excretion type. The palm civet can distinguish animal species, sex, and familiar/unfamiliar individuals by the odor of the perineal gland secretion.
Feeding and diet
Asian palm civets are omnivores utilizing fruits such as berries and pulpy fruits as a major food source, and thus help to maintain tropical forest ecosystems via seed dispersal. They eat chiku, mango, rambutan and coffee, but also small mammals and insects. Ecologically, they fill a similar niche in Asia as common raccoons in North America. They play an important role
in the natural regeneration of Pinanga kuhlii and P. zavana palms at Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park. They also feed on palm flower sap, which when fermented becomes toddy, a sweet liquor. Because of this habit they are called the toddy cat.
Due to their solitary and nocturnal habits, little is known about the reproductive processes and behaviour of civets. In March 2010, a pair of
palm civets was observed when attempting to mate. The pair copulated on the tree branch for about five minutes. During that period the male mounted the female 4–5 times. After each mounting the pair separated for few moments and repeated the same procedure. After completion of mating, the pair frolicked around for some time, moving from branch to branch on the tree. The animals separated after about six minutes and moved off to different branches and rested there.
In some parts of its range Asian palm civets are hunted for bush meat and the pet trade. In southern China it is extensively hunted and trapped. Dead individuals were found with local tribes in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu and Agra, Uttar Pradesh in India between 1998 and 2003, where it is killed for its meat.
The oil extracted from small pieces of the meat kept in linseed oil in a closed earthen pot and regularly sunned is used indigenously as a cure for scabies.
Kopi Luwak has become increasingly trendy, and as a result civets are being increasingly captured from the wild and fed coffee beans to mass-produce this blend. The impact of the demand for this fashionable coffee on wild civet populations is yet unknown but may constitute a significant threat. In Indonesia, the demand for Asian palm civets appears to be in violation of the quota set for pets.
Kopi Luwak is coffee prepared using coffee beans that have been subjected to fermentation in the gastrointestinal tract of the Asian palm civet called luwak in Indonesia. Caffeine content in both Arabica and Robusta luwak coffee is lower than in unfermented coffee. Large deformation mechanical rheology testing revealed that civet coffee beans are harder and more brittle in nature than their control counterparts indicating that digestive juices enter into the beans and modify the micro-structural properties of these beans. Proteolytic enzymes cause substantial breakdown of storage proteins.
Paradoxurus hermaphroditus is listed on CITES Appendix III. There is a quota in place in Indonesia, which is largely ignored by hunters and traders and is not enforced by authorities.
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- Paradoxurus hermaphroditus
- Common palm civet
- Mentawai palm civet
- Paradoxurus lignicolor, Gerrit Smith Miller, Jr (1903)
- Paradoxurus philippinensis, Claude Jourdan (1837)
- Paradoxurus musangus, Thomas Stamford Raffles (1821)
Least Concern (IUCN3.1)