Large Indian civet

We like to think of the predator-prey dramas being played out in the jungles as occurring on large scales: the tiger creeping along a vegetation-choked trail and pouncing on an oblivious sambar or a pack of wild dogs running down a muntjac and tearing it apart in a fury of snapping jaws. And these events do happen. But most of the predator-prey interactions occur on smaller scales. That doesn’t mean they are any less interesting. Some of the most fascinating—and deadly—carnivores to stalk the jungle are no larger than a terrier. But don’t let the size fool you: Sometimes dangerous things come in small packages.

One of the most successful small carnivore groups are the civets, also known as viverrids because they are grouped under the family Viverridae. The civets are small to medium sized carnivores with a cat-like lithesome body and an elongated muzzle. Members of this family range across Africa and Asia. The jungles of Vietnam and Laos contain several civet species, and I look forward to highlighting some of them in future posts. Today we begin with one of the more common Indochina species: the large Indian civet (Viverra zibetha). As its name implies this is one of the larger civets and can top the scale at over 20 lbs. One of the most striking features of this species is its coloration. Its background color is grizzled grey to silver, the body is indistinctly spotted, and there are prominent black markings along the neck and tail. The large Indian civet has a wide geographic range. It thrives from India west to Vietnam and from China south into Malaysia. It has been recorded in both primary and secondary forests and has even been found in human-dominated landscapes. Like other members of its family it is highly adaptable. A true survivor, it will eat anything small enough to be caught—including frogs, lizards, birds, crabs, and small mammals.

The species is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Stable populations exist in half a dozen countries throughout its range. However, in Vietnam densities are believed to be severely depressed, due to both habitat loss and illegal hunting. Unlike other animals that we have covered in the Species Spotlight, there is evidence that this species has been specifically targeted for the wildlife trade. Like all civets this species has specialized glands that secrete a musky scent used for territorial marking. Historically this substance has been an important ingredient in perfume and has therefore been in high demand by that industry. The practice of using natural civet musk has decreased in recent decades but still occurs. Large Indian civets are also taken by wire snares set to catch generic ground-dwelling mammals. It is not uncommon to see large Indian civets in local wildlife markets. To protect this species it is vital to reduce snaring levels. The good news is that if this can be done it is likely that populations will rebound. Short generation times and an ability to survive in a variety of habitats put the large Indian civet in better shape than other Annamite mammals.

Large Indian civet camera trap photo
Large Indian civet camera trap photo

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