By Priya Ranganathan
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Civets are peculiar little creatures belonging to the Viverrid family that share a strong family resemblance to the mongoose. They are small carnivores, and 11 species exist in India today, although nine are well-accounted for. Indeed, India is rich in small carnivores, which include the red panda, six species of mongooses, two species of linsangs, 17 species of mustelids (weasels, otters, martens), and 11 species of civets. They occur all across India, though the highest species diversity is found in the Himalayas, Northeast India, and the Western Ghats.
Civets are nocturnal and the size of a good-sized tabby cat. I first made acquaintance with these nosy little omnivores in field in the Western Ghats, where a pair of civets decided to engage in a rowdy fight outside our field station. I crept outside and startled the pair apart with a bright flashlight, observing the civets in fascination. It was my first sighting, and I had no idea what I was looking at. A later exploration of Vivek Menon’s Mammals of India book introduced me to the civet family.
Four species of civets are found in the Western Ghats – the brown palm civet, the common palm civet, the small Indian civet, and the rare (possibly extinct) Malabar civet. They are incredibly difficult to spot, as they prefer to stay in trees and only descend to the ground under the cover of darkness. The occasional civet will stroll across a forest road in bright daylight, but these individuals are far and few between. Camera trapping is a useful way of capturing these creatures going about their daily (rather, nightly) business. These cameras are an ecologist’s best friend in the field; the motion-sensor triggers the camera to click when it picks up movement within range. More often than not, the camera clicks a wild animal. Sometimes, however, it picks up a curious person and the occasional cow or goat.
I have spotted civets in fig trees in Kerala, given their high preference for fruits and flowers. Jackfruit is another delicacy that they enjoy, although they rarely say no to a mouthful of insects or small mammals. Some of India’s rarest and most fascinating animals are only active after dark, and the civet is a wonderful example of some of the amazing creatures that exist in our country, clinging on to life in India’s vanishing rainforests.
About the Author:
Priya Ranganathan is a wetland ecologist who works in the wild Western Ghats. When she isn’t out wading through swamp forests, she can be found scribbling away in her notebook or practicing Bharatanatyam.
About the Artist:
Asmita Sapre Ranganathan is a pathologist, poet, writer, Sanskrit teacher, and artist from Mumbai.