*Surya Prakash Ph.D.
Alternatively called toddy cats, musang , bijjoo ,kasturi billi in Hindi but are not true cats though they have been placed in a family, Viverdae which is close to the cat family ,Felidae. Word ‘civet’ is an Arabic term that means ‘scent’ or ‘aroma’ as these nocturnal arboreal animals possess scent gland which looks like testes in both the sexes hence named Civets.There are many species of civets worldwide but the two species which have comfortably adapted to the arid and semi arid habitats of NCR, avoiding the extreme deserts, are Common Palm Civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus & Small Indian Civet Viverricula indica. Both the species can be seen in Delhi’s dry scrub forests, fruits orchids, public & personnel home gardens also around human dwellings within the city.
Common Palm Civet’s body is covered with coarse, shaggy grayish color hair coat which has longitudinal stripes pattern on the back and spots on the flanks, shoulder and thighs ,where as Small Indian Civet has grayish brown fur, with lined and streaked flanks and cross bars on the neck. Both have very long tail which helps them in balancing while jumping from one tree to another. They are so well adapted to Delhi’s climate that during extreme biting winter they put on shining fur coat to beat the cold and shed the same during summer with short sleek summer pelage. Though both are omnivorous species and good tree climbers but prefer to forage on the ground for food as they have short legs, well cushioned, compact paws, sharp teeth necessary to hunt small birds, reptiles and small rodents like rats, squirrels, mice, but are opportunistic too as they live inside drains or on roof top of outhouses and fruits orchids of human settlements hence don’t hesitate to steal the food from anywhere they get an opportunity (sometime back a Common Palm Civet was rescued from the Parliament house in Delhi). Because of their stealing habits they steal the sweet sap called ‘Toddy’ from the pots which are tied on the trees to make sweet liquor they are named ‘toddy cats’. Palm civets reproduce throughout the year but it has been recorded that kittens are most often seen during winter from October to December.
The female Asian palm civet usually gives birth to up to 4 young after a gestation period that lasts for nearly eight weeks. The babies are weaned by their mother until they are strong enough to fend for themselves.
Common Palm Civet is fond of ‘Palm Sap’ of palm tree so it doesn’t leave any opportunity to drink the nutritious palm sap during fruiting season in the nights. In south especially where there is coffee plantation they eat ‘coffee berries’. The fruits pulp is digested but the coffee beans are egested which is used to prepare the supposedly most expensive, fashionable and trendy coffee in the world called ‘Kopi Luwak’ particularly in Indonesia, hence civets are captured from the wild and fed coffee beans for mass-production of this blend of coffee the impact of the demand simply constitute a significant threat to the wild civet population.
The secretions of their scent glands are broadly resins, fatty acids, with volatile oils with free ammonia therefore it is used for various purposes in making perfumes & have some medicinal use as well that is why Small Indian Civet is also called ‘Kasturi Billi’ as it has scent gland .Civets can be easily tamed and hence kept as pet for its scent. In Assam they are killed for meat and skin. Their population is slowly plummeting everywhere because of habitat loss and civets are not welcomed by humans and farmers as they destroy and feed upon the fruits from the fruit orchids but still they play major role in seed dispersal specially that of coffee, cross pollination and controlling the rat swarms by eating them.
International Union of Conservation Network still considers them least concern even now but they are regularly hunted for bush meat & their scent glands the extracts of which is used for aphrodisiac use which is a myth and fur in many parts of the country. Also stray dogs have become very serious threat for their survival as they are killed by them because of sharing of the same habitat.
*Surya Prakash, Ph.D.
( Zoology),Member- BNHS, IBCN, WWF
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