African Palm Civets (Nandinia binotata): Ringtails of Central Africa from West Coast to East

by DerdriuMarriner

African palm civets claim forested, grassy, scrubby swathes from Central Africa's west to east coasts. They really like oil palm pulp and rainy, warm days. They make lots of musk.

*****

Their name announces and confuses everything about African two-spotted palm civets.
• African two-spotted palm civets are native only to central Africa.
• They cannot claim to be Africa’s only civets.
• They display different bio-geographies and physiques than sympatric (“same-ranging”) African civets (Civettictis civetta) even though both civets exhibit spotted bodies and striped tails.
• Despite their name, they have more than two spots.
• They include palm within their names because of relishing palm pulp, sap, and toddies.
• But like their counterparts, they know what it is like to see habitats converted to palm-oil plantations.
• They retain the name civet because of producing musk even though scientists suspect African two-spotted palm civets of being genetically distinct from all other civets.

*****

Nandinia binotata

Manchester Museum, Manchester, North West England
Manchester Museum, Manchester, North West England

 

African two-spotted palm civets act like civets by:

  • Avoiding conflict;

  • Controlling pests;

  • Dispersing seeds;

  • Eluding predators;

  • Producing musk;

  • Smelling musky.

They appear like civets by displaying:

  • Spotted bodies;

  • Striped tails.

They communicate like civets by:

  • Barking, clicking, growling, hooting, mewing, purring, and screaming;

  • Releasing stink-bombs against predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles;

  • Scent-marking routes and territory.

But scientists consider African two-spotted palm civets unlike all other African and Asian civets. They depend upon scientific advances and technological breakthroughs to problem-solve the genetic enigma of African two-spotted palm civets. In the meantime, they express their phylogenetic suspicions by assigning to African two-spotted palm civets a genus and a species all their own, Nandinia binotata.  

 

 

Bio-geographical and physical subtleties divide species. The first subspecies, the nominate (“first-named”), gets the species' name: Nandinia binotata binotata (John Edward Gray [February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875], 1830) -- Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Centrafrique, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo. Others include:

  • arborea (Edmund Heller [May 21, 1875 – July 18, 1939], 1913) -- Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda;

  • gerrardi (Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas [February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929], 1893) -- Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe;

  • intensa (Ángel Cabrera y Latorre [February 19, 1879 – January 7, 1960] and A.E. Ruxton, 1926) -- Angola, Congo-Kinshasa, Zambia.   

 

Nandinia binotata: American Museum of Natural History specimen no. 51504, old male from Niapu, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo ~

A = palmar surface of left fore foot; B = plantar surface of left hind foot. Natural size.
J.A. Allen, Carnivora, Vol. XLVII (1922-1925), Figure 38, p. 142
J.A. Allen, Carnivora, Vol. XLVII (1922-1925), Figure 38, p. 142

 

Bio-geography differentiates subspecies into non-overlapping and overlapping homelands. Appearances contrastingly differ slightly while behavioral and habitat/niche preferences vary not at all. All African two-spotted palm civets indeed display:

  • Alert, rounded ears;

  • Dark-, longitudinal-, triple-striped napes;

  • Muscular, short limbs;

  • Pointed muzzles;

  • Prickly-textured tongues;

  • Short paws, with hairless, pink, thick-padded soles;

  • 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, 8 molars;

  • 20 curved, semi-retractile claws;

  • 20 digits;

  • White-blotched shoulders;

  • Yellow-green eyes with vertical pupils.

Their long, thick pelage mottles brown, light tan, or yellow with dark, upper-body hairs and spots. Their tails sequence rings into alternating darker and lighter bands. The totality serves as perfect camouflage for tree-dwellers crepuscularly active for 3 – 4 hours each following dusk and preceding dawn.

 

African Palm Civet (Nandinia binotata), under synonym of Paradoxurus hamiltonii:

Drawn in stone by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (February 8, 1807 – January 27, 1894) from the specimen in the Surrey Zoological Gardens, Kennington, Central London
John Edward Gray, Illustrations of Indian Zoology, Vol. II (1833-1834), Plate 10
John Edward Gray, Illustrations of Indian Zoology, Vol. II (1833-1834), Plate 10

 

Sylvan and wooded habitat niches accommodate the opportunistic omnivore in question's life cycles and natural histories. African two-spotted palm civets favor:

  • Actual evapo-transpiration of 47.8 inches (1,214.08 millimeters) monthly;

  • Altitudes up to 6,561.68 – 8,202.10 feet (2,000 – 2,500 meters) above sea level;

  • Dense forests and jungles;

  • Fruit-bearing trees (especially corkwood [Myrianthus], fig [Ficus], oil-palm [Elaeis guineensis], sugar plum [Uapaca], umbrella [Musanga]);

  • Rainfall of 5.13 inches (130.21 millimeters) monthly;

  • Temperatures of 75.2°F (24°C).

But the bottom line is access to:

  • Fruits;

  • 39.37+ inches (1,000+ millimeters) of annual precipitation.

These two conditions let African two-spotted palm civets tolerate:

  • Deciduous, gallery, lowland, montane, riverine forests;

  • Logged, secondary-growth forest edges;

  • Savannah – woodland mosaics.   

 

African Palm Civet's iconic native landscape: north-central Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area, designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 ~

Ngorongoro Crater, the world's largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera, blends forested highland landscapes with lush grasslands.
View of Ngorongoro from Inside the Crater
View of Ngorongoro from Inside the Crater

 

Fruits dominate the diets of the obligate pest-controlling, seed-dispersing environmentalist in question. But African two-spotted palm civets also enjoy:

  • Arthropods;

  • Carrion;

  • Eggs;

  • Small amphibians, birds, mammals (especially fruit bats), and reptiles.

They generally forage alone to:

  • Ambush prey;

  • Bite rapidly and repeatedly the nape of the neck;

  • Swallow whole.

They immobilize prey with agile fore-limbs while anchoring on plush tail and rotated hind-paws. But they gather in groups of 15+ on particularly fruit-laden trees. They typically hunt from single-occupancy dens:

  • Among tangled vines;

  • In hollow logs, rock crevices, or tree holes;

  • On tree forks;

  • Under overgrown shrubs and thick vegetation.

They locate plants and prey by super-sensitive, super-sharp detection of:

  • Movements;

  • Smells;

  • Sounds;

  • Textures.   

 

Nandinia binotata

illustration by William Stephen Coleman (1829 - 1904)
J.G. Wood, The Illustrated Natural History, Vol. I (c. 1853), p. 244
J.G. Wood, The Illustrated Natural History, Vol. I (c. 1853), p. 244

 

Camouflaged appearances and savvy behaviors convince conservationists not to question African two-spotted palm civet sustainability. The cat-, ferret-, mongoose-, skunk-like mammals in question dominate:

  • Bordering female with male home and territorial ranges;

  • Demarcating communal latrines, escape routes, and food stops;

  • Exuding brown musk from abdominal glands and floral fruitiness from chin and paw glands;

  • Mating during rainy, vegetation-rich, warm months;

  • Producing 2 – 4 annual litters of 1 – 4 furry offspring after 60+-day gestations;

  • Staining pups with orange-yellow stenches until weaning at 60 days.

They have in place adjacent and overlapping communities of extended families whose young realize:

  • Independent households at 90 days;

  • Sexual maturity at 3 years;

  • Survival expectancies of 20+ years.   

 

Nandinia binotata: juvenile male from Niangara, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo; photo from live animal

J.A. Allen, Carnivora, Vol. XLVII (1922-1925), Plate XXI, Figure 2
J.A. Allen, Carnivora, Vol. XLVII (1922-1925), Plate XXI, Figure 2

Conclusion: Unique civets, only occupants of their genus and species as well as determined dodgers of 21st century challenges, including being killed for bushmeat and for fashion such as bow covers and bracelets

African two-spotted palm civets exemplify sustainability. They mature from 1.94-ounce (55-gram) newborns into adults with:

  • Head-and-body lengths of 14.57 – 24.80 inches (37 – 63 centimeters);

  • Tail lengths of 13.39 - 29.92 inches (34 – 76 centimeters);

  • Weights of 3.31 – 11.02 pounds (1.5 – 5 kilograms).

They relish fruit binges, mating mixers, and single-occupancy dens within home ranges of 0.21 – 0.25 square miles (0.55 – 0.65 square kilometers). But modernist – traditionalist interactions throughout urban – wildland interfaces strengthen agro-industrialists, over-hunters, perfumists, and physicians respectively prioritizing:

  • Land;

  • Market-destined bow coverings, bracelets, bushmeat, dresses, and hats;

  • Perfume stabilizers;

  • Traditional medicines.

Survival-savvy African two-spotted palm civets warrant:

  • Governmental protection;

  • Scientific investigation;

  • Wildlife-loving activism.   

African Palm Civet's iconic native ecosystems: source of the Nile River in southeastern Uganda ~

The Nile is an international river, flowing through 11 African countries: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.
Source-of-the-Nile launches (Victoria Nile river), Lake Victoria, Jinja, southeastern Uganda
Source-of-the-Nile launches (Victoria Nile river), Lake Victoria, Jinja, southeastern Uganda

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

African Palm Civet's native landscapes: Palimé Falls, namesake of nearby city, fourth largest in Togo, renowned for natural beauty, with views of Mount Agou, Togo's highest mountain at 3234 feet (986 meters), and vistas of Ghana's Lake Volta

Weaving and cacao and coffee plantations are centered around Palimé.
Palimé (Kpalimé) Falls, Plateaux Region, southwestern Togo
Palimé (Kpalimé) Falls, Plateaux Region, southwestern Togo

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African Palm Civet's iconic faunal and geographic landscape: African elephants (Loxodonta) in south central Kenya against backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, across border in northern Tanzania

Amboseli National Park, Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province, south central Kenya, East Africa
Amboseli National Park, Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province, south central Kenya, East Africa
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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Extreme Measures: The Ecological Energetics of Birds and Mammals by Brian K. McNab

Along with reproduction, balancing energy expenditure with the limits of resource acquisition is essential for both a species and a population to survive.
Nandinia binotata in books

Sunrise over Mount Kilimanjaro, from Amboseli National Park, Kenya, East Africa ~

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine:

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
Updated: 10/07/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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