Golden Dry-Zone Palm Civets (Paradoxurus stenocephalus): Non-Ringtails Endemic to Sri Lanka

by DerdriuMarriner

Golden dry-zone palm civets are gold-brown. Three stripes decorate their backs, from shoulders to tail. Central Sri Lanka's misty mountains supply their favorite palm flower sap.

Science affords “Oops!” and “Wow!” moments.
• The pearl-shaped North Indian Ocean island formerly known as Ceylon always appears atop historical lists of spectacular faunal and floral discoveries.

But Sri Lanka apparently claims an equally striking “Uh-oh!” instance with an unfamiliar specimen of unknown provenance inadvertently jumpstarting 200+ years of controversy.
• The scientific slip-up concerns a German botanical and zoological taxonomist for the Russian imperial collection.
• The specimen’s misidentification as a golden palm endemic engenders 2+ centuries of scientific misclassification of Sri Lanka’s native civets.

But Sri Lanka’s endemic civets -- golden dry-zone, golden wet-zone, Sri Lankan brown -- get sorted in the twenty-first century thanks to wildlife-loving amateur Channa Rajapaksha and wildlife-loving professionals Colin P. Groves and Kelum Manemandra-Arachchi.

"Portrait of Paul I of Russia": Misidentification of civet specimen in Paul I's nature cabinet engendered 2+ centuries of scientific controversies ~

c. 1800 oil portrait by Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (Russian: July 24 O.S. (August 4, N.S.) 1757 – April 6 O.S. (April 18, N.S.) 1825)
Russian Museum, Room 12, Mikhailovsky Palace, St. Petersburg, northwestern Russia
Russian Museum, Room 12, Mikhailovsky Palace, St. Petersburg, northwestern Russia


The quest by wildlife-loving amateurs and professionals outside South Asia to understand Sri Lanka’s civets begins in 1777. The misstep commences with a specimen in the nature cabinet during the Crown Prince years of subsequent Russian Emperor Paul I (October 1, 1754 – March 23, 1801). It draws its impetus from the invitation by Russian Empress Catherine II (May 2, 1729 – November 17, 1796) for Berlin-born German taxonomist Peter Simon Pallas (September 22, 1741 – September 8, 1811) to:

  • Instruct Grand Dukes Alexander (December 23, 1777 – December 1, 1825) and Constantine (April 29, 1778 – June 27, 1831);
  • Lead natural history expeditions throughout the Russian imperial provinces;
  • Teach at Saint Petersburg’s Academy of Sciences;
  • Write zoographies of Asia and Russia.


Golden Palm Civet (Paradoxurus zeylonensis)

Sinharaja Forest Reserve, southern Sri Lanka
Sinharaja Forest Reserve, southern Sri Lanka


The Pallas specimen carries historically the common, trivial or vulgar name golden palm civet and recently the Latin, scientific or taxonomic name Paradoxurus zeylonensis (“Ceylon paradox”). It displays:

  • Blackened rump and tail;
  • Brown-overlaid grey upper-coat;
  • Equal head-and-body and tail elongations;
  • 5 rows of white whiskers bristling backward to flattened, soft-haired ears;
  • Light grey under-coat;
  • Marten-like, thin fur;
  • Same-colored neck and throat;
  • Super-visible bristle-bearing warts;
  • Thick-based tail.

But the descriptions of backward-curving whiskers and blackened hindquarters fit no specimen previously known as a golden palm civet through:

  • Collection for Colombo University, Colombo’s National Museum of Sri Lanka, and London’s Natural History Museum;
  • Provenance in Sri Lanka’s dry sub-montane and upper-montane, south and west intermediate, and wet lowland zones.


Asian Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus): A golden-morphed Asian Palm Civet may have been misidentified as a golden palm civet in Imperial Russia.

Kape Melo Farms, Inc., Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental Province, Mindanao, southern Philippines
Kape Melo Farms, Inc., Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental Province, Mindanao, southern Philippines


The two features can be characteristic of Asian palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). Australian National University Professor Colin P. Groves in fact conjectures that:

  • The Pallas specimen may be a golden-morphed Asian palm civet;
  • The taxonomy P. zeylonensis may be referencing a pre-existing, proper identification (P. hermaphroditus) penned in the same year by the same taxonomist and must be side-lined.

He considers that all other live-trapped and museum specimens apparently fall within one of 4 classifications:

  • Endemic golden dry-zone palm civets (P. stenocephalus);
  • Endemic golden wet-zone palm civets (P. aureus);
  • Endemic Sri Lankan brown palm civets (P. montanus);
  • Mystery specimens stored in London’s Natural History Museum and ticketed as “Ceylon, confined to the Hills. Whyte” (Groves, p. 239).


Golden Wet-Zone Palm Civet (Paradoxurus aureus): shares island of Sri Lanka with its narrower-headed relative, Golden Dry-Zone Palm Civet (P. stenocephalus) ~

illustration by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929)
W.T. Blanford,  "A Monograph of the Genus Paradoxurus, F. Cuv." (1885), Plate L, between pp. 780 - 781
W.T. Blanford, "A Monograph of the Genus Paradoxurus, F. Cuv." (1885), Plate L, between pp. 780 - 781


The scientific classifications of golden wet-zone and Sri Lankan brown palm civets are pre-existing. They constitute nomenclature historically relegated incorrectly to synonymous status with the now-doubted designation golden palm civet (P. zeylonensis) and presently suggested for recognition as and separation into 2 independent species. The identification of golden dry-zone palm civets emerges in the Groves et al. article of 2009 as a fresh, new, proposed third species categorization. The binomial (“two-name”) taxonomy emphasizes a critical morphological (structural) distinction in comparison to Sri Lanka’s other palm tree fruit-consuming, sap-drinking civets. Golden dry-zone palm civets exhibit noticeable narrow-headedness. Their recommended species name therefore merges the ancient Greek adjective στενος (stenos, “narrow”) with the ancient Greek noun κέφαλος (kephalos, “head”).


Paradoxurus aureus in 1822: Up until the 21st century, zoologists were unaware of differences qualifying Paradoxurus aureus for splitting into three endemic Sri Lankan species.

Mémoires du Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Tome 9 (1822), Plate 4, opp. p. 41
Mémoires du Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Tome 9 (1822), Plate 4, opp. p. 41


Behavioral, corporeal, and distributional characteristics assist in identifying golden dry-zone palm civets. Existential habits, life cycles, and natural histories challenge scientific knowledge and require substantial research. But the preservation and the provenance of an adult female’s and an adult male’s skins and skulls -- and the live-trapping of an identical adult male -- contribute to a tentative generalization regarding the golden dry-zone palm civet’s physical configuration and location. Both museum specimens indeed depict as hallmark features:

  • Backward-curved coronoid process;
  • Dull gold-brown upper-fur;
  • High brain-case;
  • Large skull;
  • Narrow interpterygoid (temple-area) fossa (opening);
  • Narrow zygomatic (cheekbone) arches;
  • Pale gold under-fur;
  • Parallel-sided, square occipital crest;
  • 3 clear, dark brown, thin stripes running mid-dorsally from rump to tail base;
  • Wide muzzle.


Precipitation and Irrigation Map of Sri Lanka

Library of Congress > Federal Research Division > Country Studies
Library of Congress > Federal Research Division > Country Studies


Drought, evapo-transpiration, landforms, monsoons, precipitation, soils, temperature, and vegetation determine Sri Lanka’s division into 3 biotic (life) zones. Golden dry-zone palm civet homelands extend throughout the dry eastern and northern plains. They offer food sources and habitat niches within tropical dry broadleaf evergreen, moist deciduous, and thorny scrub forests of:

  • Bidi leaf trees (Piliostigma racemosum);
  • Buckthorns (Ziziphus caracutta);
  • Bush plums (Carissa spinarum);
  • Ceylon ironwoods (Manilkara hexandra);
  • Ebony (Diospyros spp);
  • Golden shower trees (Cassia fistula);
  • Mustard trees (Salvadora persica);
  • Neem trees (Azadirachta indica);
  • Peacock chaste trees (Vitex altissima);
  • Satinwoods (Chloroxylon sweitenia);
  • Weera olives (Drypetes sepiaria);
  • Wood-apples (Feronia limonia).

They suggest as possible population centers live- and snare-trapping sites at:

  • Koslanda, Uva Province;
  • Panama, Eastern Province;
  • Walpolamulla, Central Province.


Jackfruits (Artocarpus heterophyllus), known as waraka, are enticing to Sri Lanka's endemic civets.

Kandy, Central Province, central Sri Lanka
Kandy, Central Province, central Sri Lanka



Packaging and timing color knowledge. They respectively defer to:

  • Quality and quantity;
  • Schedules and technology.

For example, large- to little-sized islands do not necessarily lend themselves to any easier faunal and floral understanding than do bigger, daunting continents. Their endemic fauna historically eludes collectors, explorers, and scientists as effectively as mainland animals if:

  • Landforms and weather are aggressive and assertive;
  • Organisms are reclusive and savvy.

Alive or dead, espied or gathered, they inadvertently facilitate or frustrate analysis and classification because of:

  • Ambience;
  • Funding;
  • Numbers;
  • Preservation;
  • Timelines.

But the diligent intelligence evidenced in the Groves, Manemandra-Arachchi, Rajapaksha investigations and publications indicate that information-gathering ultimately aids research in general and -- in this case -- Sri Lanka’s golden dry-zone palm civets.


Knuckles Mountain Range (Sinhalese: Dumbara Kanduvetiya, "Misty Mountains"), a climatic microcosm of Sri Lanka, with all climatic zones exhibited with range's area.

Banker-amateur civetologist Channa Rajapaksha discovered Golden Dry-Zone Palm Civet via his waraka (jackfruit)-laden trap at Knuckles.
Central Province, Sri Lanka
Central Province, Sri Lanka



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.


Golden Dry-Zone Palm Civet's human synecology: Ruwanwelisaya stupa (relic repository), built c. 140 BC by Dutugamunu, King of Ceylon 161 BC to 137 BC ~

The Stupa is sited in the sacred city of Anudrapura, one of Sri Lanka's eight World Heritage Sites, inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1982.
Anuradhapura, North Central Province, Sri Lanka
Anuradhapura, North Central Province, Sri Lanka

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Golden Dry-Zone Palm Civet's human synecology: Adam's Bridge, also known as Rama's Bridge or Rama Setu, chain of limestone shoals, between Pamban Island, offshore of Tamil Nadu state, southeast India, and Mannar Island, offshore from northwest Sri Lanka~

Adam's Bridge is thought to have served as ancient land bridge between the island and the subcontinent.
Adam's Bridge, as seen from the air, looking west over Sri Lanka
Adam's Bridge, as seen from the air, looking west over Sri Lanka
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Mountain Jungle Eyes: green t-shirt ~ Available via Amazon

Jungle travelers may never know that they are being quietly watched by "invisible" jungle dwellers, such as Golden Dry-Zone Palm Civets.
wildlife t-shirts

Sri Lankan Wildlife (Bradt Guides) by Gehan Wijeyeratne ~ pp. 38 - 39: civet illustrations

An ideal field guide and armchair read, this guide to Sri Lanka's incredible diversity is illustrated with color photographs of species and includes maps charting animal habitats to aid identification.
Sri Lankan wildlife-themed books

Jungle Eyes: green t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Jungle Eyes
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Golden Dry-Zone Palm Civet's human synecology ~ Ruvanveli Dagoba (built c. 140 BC), Anuradhapura, North Central Province, Sri Lanka:

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle - Mary Evans

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: 09/25/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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