Spotted linsang

My Monday morning work efficiency in Vietnam is inversely proportional to the number of hours I spend singing karaoke the night before: this is a great truth. At 8:05 am I was propped at my desk at the WWF office, bleary-eyed, sipping high-octane café sua, flipping through camera trap photos taken in the Saola Nature Reserves. Most of the pictures showed common species: a herd of wild pigs meandering across a clearing, a troop of crab-eating macaques coming to the ground to feed, a lone serow, large, black, and shaggy in the Annamite night. Then I see a pattern I’m not familiar with: a series of alternating black and white bands. I rub my eyes and look at the photograph again.  The image, like a string of Oreos, is still there. What is this? I wonder as I lean forward in my chair. The pattern, I realize, is attached to a small, slender, cat-like, furry body. I sit bolt upright and shout “A spotted linsang!” An overturned mug sends hot coffee across my desk.

I have good reason to be excited: the spotted linsang (Prionodon pardicolor) is one of the most striking and elusive small carnivores in the Annamites. It is beautifully patterned: black streaks against a sand-colored background run from the head to the shoulders then turn into bold blotches that end in a ringed tail. Although not considered particularly rare, it is known for being secretive and rarely recorded. The spotted linsang is smaller than either the Large Indian or Owston’s civets, weighing in at just over one pound. But don’t let its size fool you: this is a predator par excellence. Highly arboreal, the species stalks the treetops, scurrying from branch to branch, specializing in the capture of small birds. Its tail, which is almost as long as its body, helps provide balance when hunting feathered morsels. Like the other small carnivores we’ve looked at the spotted linsang has a variable diet: insects, rodents, frogs, and snakes are all fair game. The species has a wide range across Asia, living from Nepal and Assam east into China, then down through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. It is found in both primary and secondary forests and has even been observed in grasslands. Despite it’s wide geographic range the spotted linsang is infrequently recorded. It is unclear to what extent this reflects low densities or low detection rates. It is likely that the species is more common that previously thought but is difficult to detect because of its nocturnal and arboreal nature. Either way, the lack of information about its basic ecology makes the spotted linsang one of the most understudied small carnivores in Asia. Because of its large range and the lack of information suggesting general population decline the species is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. Like many other species we’ve covered in Species Spotlight additional information is needed if biologists are to make a more accurate conservation assessment. I can only hope that our camera traps in Vietnam continue to detect this small forest phantom.

Spotted linsang caught on camera trap
Spotted linsang caught on camera trap
Camera trap photo of spotted linsang
Camera trap photo of spotted linsang
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