Masked Palm Civet, Paguma larvata
The masked palm civet (Paguma larvata), also known as the gem-faced civet, can be found in Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. Its range includes China and the islands of Sumatra, Borneo, Taiwan, and the island chains of Nicobar and Andaman. It does occur in Japan, but experts do not know if it is native or introduced in that area of its range. It prefers a habitat within temperate deciduous forests and tropical rainforests.
The masked palm civet resembles most other civets in body structure, but its fur is grey to brownish orange in color, and it bears no patters like spots or stripes, with the exception of the mask on its face. This mask is comprised of a white stripe that extends from the forehead to the tip of the nose and darker fur around the eyes, ears, and cheeks. A smaller and sometimes patchy circle of white fur surrounds the eyes, and white fur occurs on the throat, chin, and lips. Some individuals have white “sideburns” that disappear in patches towards the ears. The feet and sometimes legs are dark or black in color, varying from individual to individual. The tip of the tail can also vary in color, sometimes appearing darker than the rest of the fur. This species reaches an average body length of 20 to 28 inches, with a tail length of up to 25 inches and an average weight between 8 and 13.2 pounds.
The masked palm civet is nocturnal and spends most of its time alone in the trees. Females are able to breed twice per year, giving birth to two litters that contain one to four young. Young will reach maturity at around three months of age. The diet of this species consists mainly of fruit, although it does consume insects and small vertebrates like birds and squirrels.
The major threats for the masked palm civet include habitat destruction and fragmentation, as well as hunting. It is thought that this civet may have been a source for the outbreak of SARS throughout areas of its range, due to improper cooking. In 2003, the SARS coronavirus was found in several live individuals in a market in Guangdong, China. A raccoon dog and several humans were tested in the same market and were found to be carrying the virus as well. In 2006, the claims that SARS coronavirus in humans could be linked to civets were proven by the Guangzhou Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of Hong Kong University. However, civets are not the main cause for SARS, being a step in the process of transference. Bats were linked to the initial spread of SARS, leaving civets, pigs, and humans to be secondary carriers. In Malaysia and Thailand the masked palm civet is protected by law and in Hong Kong it is protected by the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance Cap 170. The population found in India is listed on the CITES Appendix III. The masked palm civet appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”
Image Caption: Masked palm civet (a.k.a. gem-faced civet). Photographer’s original comments: “The cotton tree flowers had attracted a whole lot of guests to feed upon its banquet… However I was not prepared to find a palm civet – outside my window – in the middle of the city!” Credit: Denise Chan/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)