05 May 2010

Civets of Siglap: Singapore' last wild urban carnivores

The Common palm civet aka musang or civet cat, is believed to be the last small wild carnivore in Singapore.
A study at Siglap showed that there are 20-30 civets there! And that they are breeding!

The recent Straits Times article about the study gives me an opportunity to post about the fabulous talk given by Xu Weiting at "Zoological Explorations in Singapore" part of the International Year of Biodiversity celebrations by the Department of Biological Sciences of the National University of Singapore.
The Guest of Honour at the talk was Prof Tommy Koh who gave a wonderful global view of how things have moved since Rio to Copenhagen. And there were lots of other interesting talks too.

Here is a peek at what Weiting shared about her study, which was done together with Abdul Razak Jaffar of the Night Safari and volunteers and colleagues. The team estimated the number of civets at Siglap based on sightings, photographs and remote camera traps.
And also did rather icky 'scat analysis'. The best way to find out what a civet eats is to look closely at what comes out the other end of a civet.

Among the most exciting findings shared was that about five offspring were caught on camera, a sign that the civets are breeding and could be a sustainable population.
Weiting also did a survey of sentiments among Siglap residents towards the civets. Some Siglap residents consider them a nuisance as they patter on rooftops, nest under roofs and eat the fruits from trees in gardens. Thus, more civets are being trapped in Siglap.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said the number of civets it received went up from 23 in 2007 to 31 last year. Almost all came from the Siglap and Opera estates. So far this year, seven have been turned over to the agency, all from that area. AVA releases them into nature areas. Those that are weaker may be sent to the zoo.

One of the aims of the study project is to promote greater awareness and acceptance of the civets in the residential area. Hopefully people will accept the animals and stop trapping and removing them.
The study team hopes that through heightened awareness, people will realise that living among these creatures should be a cause for celebration instead of concern. That despite rapid urbanisation, we are still fortunate to have them as part of our natural heritage.

Here's more about civets, from Weiting's talk and other sources.

What is a civet cat?
It is not a cat! The Common or Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) is more closely related to hyaenas and mongooses! A long-bodied mammal, a civet weighs about 3kg with grey, coarse shaggy hair and a tail about the same length as its body. It has a dark band across its eyes, giving it a mischievous bandit-like appearance. It is generally more active at night, and can climb very well. In fact it travels well among trees and along wires and pipes. Civets are also commonly sighted at Pulau Ubin as well as our other wild places.

What do civets eat?
Weiting's study found that they eat small snakes, small birds and rats.
They also eat grass, seeds and fruits.
And they are particularly fond of the fruits of the 'Rain tree'. I love the photo of the civet looking 'longingly' at a Rain tree fruit pod just out of its reach.
What kind of exotic stuff can come out of the other end of a civet?
'Kopi Luwak' is a gourmet coffee, possibly the most expensive coffee. It is made from coffee beans that have been 'processed' by a civet cat. Yes, the civet cat eats the coffee beans, which passes out and are collected to be made into coffee for humans to drink! It is said that the special taste of this rare coffee comes from the fermentation of the beans in the civet cat's tummy. Another theory is that the civet cat only selects and eats the best coffee beans at the right stage of ripeness.

Don't civet cats spread diseases?
Although widely reported to harbour and transmit SARS, there is no conclusive scientific evidence for this. The animals implicated in the SARS outbreak were masked palm civets (Paguma larvata) and not our Common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). And there is no evidence of a direct link between these civet cats and the SARS outbreak in China. Besides the civet cat, two other kinds of animals were implicated as possible SARS reservoirs: the Raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) and the Chinese ferret badger (Melogale moschata). The SARS outbreak, however, does point to the dangers of viruses jumping from wild species due to human consumption of wildlife and closer interaction with wildlife as we encroach on and destroy wild habitats.

What's in a name?
Its Malay name is 'musang'. It is also called the 'Toddycat' for its apparent fondness for the fermented fruits of palm trees, the same fruits used to make the alcoholic drink called 'toddy'. The Toddycat and Palm leaf is part of the logo of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) at the National University of Singapore. Here's more about the logo.

The civet's scientific name hermaphroditus came about because both males and females have scent glands underneath the tail that resemble testicles. A noxious secretion is sprayed from these glands.

I saw a civet! What should I do?
Share your sightings of civets and other wildlife in Singapore! Your sightings will help us learn more and thus better protect them.

The civet is an endearing urban mammal that thrives among us. I hope it will become appreciated and accepted as Singapore's last wild urban carnivore.

More links

16 comments:

cordy said...

One spotted at Tanah Merah MRT, yes, the station in the middle of two road! Very cute!

Anonymous said...

One mother with 3 cubs spotted in Tanah Merah private estate. The cubs were captured and taken away by ACRES.

Anonymous said...

I saw a mother with 2 cubs in kids playground 8pm tonight.villa marina,siglap.

ria tan said...

Wow that must have been a wonderful encounter! Please share your sightings here http://iyb2010singapore.blogspot.com/2009/10/share-your-sightings.html so that it can be incorporated in ongoing studies of these fascinating animals! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I just saw a civet cat with a most beautiful tail at my condo in Bedok Court! Amazing. It crossed in front of me, ran up a treee very very fast and stayed there. I went up to get my camera and he or she was gone by then.....Its amazing, right here in my condo!!

Siraj ahamed

Anonymous said...

There's 2 living in my roof in siglap area. They walk along the roofing and caused a dent.

Cole Mottram said...

saw a large one, 50-60cm , end of Jalan Tua Kong near Tua Kong Place.. 9pm 24th Nov

Cole Mottram said...

saw a large 50-60cm one, cnr or Jalan tua Kong and tua kong place, Siglap.. 9pm, 24th Nov.

May said...

I saw one in my back yard, Eastwood place/ Eastwood terrace. Tonight at around 10 pm

Frances said...

I think there is a colony living on the vacant land next to Victoria School. I saw a dead one there once and sometimes the dogs get very excited looking up into the trees...

Andrew said...

I saw one at my gate one early morning at 5am 2 weeks ago. Then tonight a pair fighting on neighbour's roof caused quite a commotion. Jalan Kembangan.

ria tan said...

Wow that must have been a wonderful encounter! Please share your sightings here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dDh2S2xxVUJQT0NBWkI3ZGZLekY2LXc6MA..#gid=0 so that it can be incorporated in ongoing studies of these fascinating animals! Thank you.

Evon said...

A civet cat has been wrecking havoc on our sleep by being very active on the roof. Is there a way to keep it at bay without trapping / removing it?

Ria Tan said...

You might want to contact the researchers studying civets an ask them for their advice? You can do so via this from Please share your sightings here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dDh2S2xxVUJQT0NBWkI3ZGZLekY2LXc6MA..#gid=0

Ashley Sutch said...

Just saw a family of Civit cats on my roof at East Coast - 2 adults and 3 small ones !! Very cool, they seem to be happy and healthy.....

Bedok Close said...

I saw one tonite

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