Golden Wet-Zone Palm Civets (Paradoxurus aureus): Non-Ringtails Endemic to Sri Lanka

by DerdriuMarriner

Golden wet-zone palm civets are gold-colored. They live among dense creepers, lush vines, and tall trees in Sri Lanka's evergreen rainforests. They love to drink palm flower sap.

All Sri Lanka can be divided into three biotic (life) zones. A dry evergreen, moist deciduous, and thorny scrub zone claims the pearl-shaped North Indian Ocean island’s eastern and northern plains. An intermediate moist evergreen and semi-evergreen zone emerges between the eastern and northern highlands and lowlands.

A wet evergreen zone favors the central-southern highlands and southwestern ridges and valleys.

Insular fauna has a likelihood of being not only island-exclusive but also zone-specific. For example, mammalogists historically identify Sri Lanka as part of the Asian palm and small Indian civets’ homelands and sole home of golden palm civets. Specimens obtained by Channa Rajapaksha and studied by Kelum Manemandra-Arachchi and Colin P. Groves nevertheless suggest 3+ zone-specific civets.

Paradoxurus zeylonensis: a real species or a mistaken identity?

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


Part of the challenge and excitement inherent in the scientific method centers upon examining and re-examining specimens, interpreting and re-interpreting data, and mastering and re-mastering technology. Binomial (“two-name”) and trinomial (“three-name”) description and verification of species and subspecies depend upon the accuracy of data, the currency of equipment, and the experience of taxonomists. Scientific advances and technological breakthroughs in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries particularly goad wildlife-loving amateurs and professionals to analyze the new and re-analyze the old. New-fangled machines and old-fashioned observations in fact join to debate the possibilities of:

  • Misidentification of gold-morphed Asian palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) as Sri Lanka-endemic golden palm civets (P. zeylonensis);
  • Recognition of Sri Lanka-endemic golden wet-zone palm civets (P. aureus).


Peter Simon Pallas: the civet specimen which he described as Paradoxurus zeylonensis is missing, which complicates resolution of his pioneer description of a Sri Lankan civet.

18th century portrait engraving by A. Tardieu
B. E. Raikov Russkie biologi-evolutionisty do Darvina. Vol. 1 (1952), after p. 64
B. E. Raikov Russkie biologi-evolutionisty do Darvina. Vol. 1 (1952), after p. 64


The formal presentation of golden palm civets acknowledges:

  • Cataloguing in 1777 by Peter Simon Pallas (September 22, 1741 – September 8, 1811), botany and zoology professor and natural history expeditionist to Russian Empress Catherine II (May 2, 1729 – November 17, 1796) and to Russian Emperor Paul I;
  • Publishing in 1778 by Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber (January 17, 1739 – December 10, 1810) for Die Säugethiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen.

It designates a spirit-preserved specimen in Russian Crown Prince Paul’s (October 1, 1754 – March 23, 1801) nature cabinet. It details:

  • Black rump and tail fur;
  • Bristle-bearing warts;
  • Brown-grey, marten-like upper-fur;
  • 5 rows of white whiskers bristling backward to flattened, soft-haired ears;
  • Light under-fur;
  • Long, thick-based tail.


Identification of the mysterious specimen described by Peter Simon Pallas as that of a golden morph of an Asian Common Palm Civet may bring closure to the controversy.

Asian Common Palm Civet walking
Asian Common Palm Civet walking


Scientists accept that civets endemic (native exclusively) to Sri Lanka exist. But Australian National University anthro-archaeologist Colin P. Groves considers the Pallas description possibly befitting of gold-morphed Asian palm civets. He instead defends the applicability of the description and appropriateness of the nomenclature offered in 1822 by Georges-Frédéric Cuvier (June 28, 1773 – July 24, 1838), as:

  • Histoire naturelle des mammifères co-compiler with Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (April 15, 1772 – June 19, 1844);
  • Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle menagerie head keeper and comparative physiology chair;
  • Ringtail panda (Ailurus fulgens) taxonomist.

The Cuvier description does not echo the Pallas identification. The Pallas presentation fits with the known physique of the Asian palm civet. The Cuvier taxonomy meshes with Channa Rajapaksha’s specimens.


Paradoxurus aureus

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


Channa Rajapaksha appears as the likeliest of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries' unlikeliest discoverers and explorers. He belongs on the list of modern-day professionals who expertly advance and juggle avocations and vocations. As a St. Sebastian's College graduate, he channels math concentrations into Commercial Bank's e-career paths.


Channa Rajapaksha

"Chasing Civets," The Sunday Times, January 18, 2009
"Chasing Civets," The Sunday Times, January 18, 2009

 As an expert wildlife photographer, he can claim responsibility for getting Sri Lanka's Dehiwela Zoo restocked and palm civet taxonomies restructured. The dual achievements diligently come about through:

  • Devoting weekends to observing, photographing, and tomahawk-trapping national parks;

  • Following recommendations from zookeeper Dhammika Malsinghe and zoological Drs. Wolfgang Dittus and Devka Weerakoon;

  • Sharing specimens with ANU Anthro-archaeology Department Professor Colin P. Groves and Wildlife Heritage Trust's Kelum Manemandra-arachchi.   


Paradoxurus aureus

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 bio-geographies and morphologies of the Rajapaksha specimens advance:

  • Conferring species status to the Cuvier specimen, Paradoxurus aureus, as 1 of 3+ endemic palm civets;

  • Directing scientific attention to the Pallas specimen, P. zeylonensis, as an Asian palm civet (P. hermaphroditus) morph or another Sri Lanka-endemic mammal;

  • Encouraging stricter scrutiny of Asian palm civet morphology.

The bio-geographies of the Cuvier museum specimen and the Rajapaksha tomahawk-trapped male belong to the central wet-zoned foothills and highlands. The Rajapaksha live-trapping comes from Kalupahana in the Dumbara (Knuckles) mountain range. Distributional ranges therefore encompass:

  • Close-canopied vegetation;

  • Forested slopes and wooded hills;

  • 98.43 inches (2,500 millimeters) in total annual accumulated rainfall;

  • 62.6°F (17°C) in mean temperatures. 


right front paw

Plate 4, opp. p. 41
Plate 4, opp. p. 41


Golden wet-zone palm civets deploy features typical of the genus Paradoxurus (“paradox”) and the species aureus (“golden”):

  • 4 fleet limbs;

  • Super-sensory whiskers;

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

  • 20 curved claws.


left hind paw

Plate 4, opp. p. 41
Plate 4, opp. p. 41


They display:

  • Dark-adapted, large eyes with vertical pupils;

  • Dense, glossy fur softening elongated bodies and tails;

  • Gold to red brown spotless, stripe-less upper-sides;

  • Prominent, rounded, terminally hairless ears.

They express:

  • Backward-curving coronoid processes on mandibles (jaws);

  • Broad zygomatic (cheekbone) arches;

  • High, rounded brain-cases;

  • Large skulls;

  • Parallel-sided, square, wide occipital crests;

  • Wide muzzles.

They realize:

  • Head-and-body lengths of 19.69 – 22.83 inches (50 – 58 centimeters);

  • Tail lengths of 16.54 – 20.87 inches (42 – 53 centimeters). 


Golden Wet-Zone Palm Civet iconic landscape: Maskeliya view of Adam's Peak, which has rock formation near summit interpreted as sacred footprint, of Adam for Christians and Muslims, of Buddha for Buddhists, of Shiva for Hindus.

Maskeliya was site of Sri Lanka's worst air disaster, in 1974, with loss of 191 lives in crash of Martinair Flight 138, a charter flight with 182 Indonesian hajji pilgrims + 9 crew.
Central Province, Sri Lanka
Central Province, Sri Lanka



Endemic distributional ranges are more likely than unlikely for Sri Lanka's fauna and flora. Mammalogists historically attribute 1 endemic and 2 native civet species to Sri Lanka. But the evidence of a banker and the insights of 2 experts combine to scramble and weight statistics in favor of endemism. The recognition of 2 natives -- Asian palm and small Indian civets -- and of 3 endemics -- golden dry-zone, golden wet-zone, Sri Lankan brown palm civets -- apparently conveys more accurately the historical and the present statuses of Sri Lanka's elusive, reclusive civets. Keeping scientific research advances at highly accurate informational levels demands:

  • Exact provenances;

  • Excellent specimens;

  • Expert training.

It likewise necessitates:

  • Government protection;

  • Wildlife activism. 


Golden Wet-Zone Palm Civet landscapes: Horton Plains National Park, established as nature reserve in 1969 and as national park in 1988

southern plateau of central highlands, Central Province, Sri Lanka
southern plateau of central highlands, Central Province, Sri Lanka



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Golden Wet-Zone Palm Civet landscapes: Tops of buildings in village of Teldeniya, submerged during building of Victoria Dam, from 1978 - 1985, are visible during droughts (center right), when reservoir levels dramatically drop, as in 2012.

Central Province, Sri Lanka
Central Province, Sri Lanka

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South central hill station of Ambewela offers ideal habitat for Paradoxurus aureus: wet-zone site of forest-covered hills greenified with abundant rainfall

Ambewela Farms, Nuwara Eliya District, Central Province, Sri Lanka
Ambewela Farms, Nuwara Eliya District, Central Province, Sri Lanka
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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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: 08/02/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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