Large Indian Civets (Viverra zibetha): Ringtails of Northern India, Southeast Asia, Southern China

by DerdriuMarriner

Large Indian civets are bigger than small Indian civets. They live from east Nepal and northeast India all the way to south China. Local Asians value civet meat, pelts, and scents.

There are no two ways about the shape and size of large Indian civets. Large Indian civets communicate big dimensions through:
• Muscular bodies;
• Plush tails;
• Sculptured heads;
• Sturdy limbs;
• Thick necks.

They always convey big bones and developed muscles, never excess weight and fatty accumulations.
• Both female and male large Indian civets give solid impressions even though males are noticeably heavier, longer and wider.

Both genders look grounded in their native East, South and Southeast Asian homelands even though females and males manage impressive arboreal feats of super-agile ascents and descents in avoiding competitors, cornering prey, and eluding predators.
• Females and males in fact move gracefully, quickly, and soundlessly through forested, grassy, scrubby, shrubby, vegetated, wooded habitats.

Viverra zibetha: A = left fore paw; B = left hind paw

R.I. Pocock, The Fauna of British India, Vol. I (1939), Figure 85, p. 345
R.I. Pocock, The Fauna of British India, Vol. I (1939), Figure 85, p. 345

 

Some civet species appear cat-like. But Viverra (ferret-like) genus members never claim feline-like looks. Biology confers more dog-like characteristics, particularly in regard to the shape of the muzzle and the size of head. More canine parallels emerge in the lengths and weights of large Indian civet adults. Physical and sexual maturity indeed finds expression in:

  • Ear lengths of 1.38 – 2.56 inches (3.5 – 6.5 centimeters);
  • Head-and-body lengths of 19.69 – 37.40 inches (50 – 95 centimeters);
  • Hind-paw lengths of 3.54 – 5.71 inches (9 – 14.5 centimeters);
  • Shoulder height of 11.81 – 14.96 inches (30 – 38 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 14.96 – 23.23 inches (38 – 59 centimeters);
  • Weights of 7.50 – 20.28 pounds (3.4 – 9.2 kilograms).

Females occupy the lower ranges and males the higher.

 

skull of Viverra zibetha

William Thomas Blanford, The Fauna of British India (1888 - 1891), Figure 22, p. 95
William Thomas Blanford, The Fauna of British India (1888 - 1891), Figure 22, p. 95

 

Parts of the large Indian civet’s body and head even assume canine-like coloring. For example, grey-brown grizzles much of the body and the upper head. Large Indian civets otherwise have the Viverra genus member hallmarks of:

  • Darkened manes;
  • Striped necks.

But all Viverra genus members individualize their distinct manes and unique necks. For instance, large Indian civet manes just link the back from the shoulders to the tail base -- not over the tail’s upper-side all the way to the tip -- with a black, bristling, long-haired stripe. They mix 3 wider black with 2 thinner white transverse neck-bands. They repeat the darker and lighter embellishments in:

  • Black-and-white, thick ringtails;
  • Darkened lower limbs and paws;
  • Whitened muzzle.  

 

Large Indian Civet (Viverra zibetha), also known commonly as Indian zibeth:

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 5
John Edward Gray, Illustrations of Indian Zoology, Vol. II (1833-1834), Plate 5

 

The body coloring and color patterns of large Indian civets act not only aesthetically but also functionally. According to prevailing scientific thought, bands, rings, and stripes advise potential niche competitors and predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles of:

  • The escape-artistry of large Indian civet limbs;
  • The stink-bombs from large Indian civet glands.

But at the same time, the colors and their designs historically contribute to the survival and sustainability of large Indian civet populations. They in fact function as super-smart camouflage in forested, vegetated, wooded habitats. It is not surprising to interpret grey as ultra-clever camouflage suggestive of a woody plant’s bark-covered branches, stems, and trunks. It may be unexpected to conclude likewise about bands, rings, and stripes.

 

Viverra zibetha

Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert, Naturgeschichte des Thier-, Pflanzen-, und Mineralreichs, Vol. I (1870), Plate V
Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert, Naturgeschichte des Thier-, Pflanzen-, und Mineralreichs, Vol. I (1870), Plate V

 

Alternatingly darker and paler bands, rings, and stripes actually catch the play of light and shadow in forested, vegetated, wooded environments. Moon-, star-, and sun-light ultimately clears super-overcast skies and enters super-dark habitats. Bands, rings, and stripes indeed express seamless fits with:

  • Ambient lighting and non-lighting;
  • Herbaceous and woody plant movements during breezes, downpours, and floods.

They facilitate large Indian civet biologies of:

  • Delivering bi-annual litters of 2 – 4 offspring whose birth weight of under 3.53 ounces (100 grams) doubles while eyes open in 10 days and quadruples while weaning takes place in 30 days;
  • Denning in other animals’ abandoned burrows;
  • Dieting on crabs, eggs, fruits, insects, roots, scorpions, and small amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles.

 

 

So are large Indian civets astute survivalists? Their extensive bio-geography certainly bio-diversifies into 5 – 6 subspecies:

  • Viverra zibetha zibetha (Carl Linnaeus [May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778], 1758): Assam (India), Bengal, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malay Peninsula, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam;
  • V.z. ashtoni (Robert Swinhoe [September 1, 1836 – October 28, 1877], 1864): China;
  • V.z. picta and pruinosus (Robert Charles Wroughton [August 15, 1849 – August 15, 1921], 1915 and 1917): Assam (India), Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam; peninsular Malaysia and Myanmar, Thailand;
  • V.z. hainana (Ting-zheng Wang, W. Xu, 1983): Hainan (China);
  • V.z. tainguensis (Vladimir Evgenievich Sokolov [February 1, 1928 – April 19, 1998], Viatcheslav V. Rozhnov, Pham Trong Anh, 1997): Vietnam.

But their conservation status is near-threatened.

 

Large Indian Civet, outside of native range: farm life in the Philippines

Iligan City, Northern Mindanao province, north central Mindanao, southern Philippines
Iligan City, Northern Mindanao province, north central Mindanao, southern Philippines

 

All of the countries within all of the large Indian civet species’ homelands attract the attention of national, regional, and world market developers. They all claim abundantly, alluringly semi-exploited and unexploited natural resources. Their dense forests and fertile lands particularly draw in agro-industrialists. But the interactions of modernist exploiters of minerals, soils, and trees with traditionalist hunters of flesh, fragrance, and fur steadily fragment and serialize East, South, and Southeast Asia into urban- and wildland-interfaced habitats. Large Indian civet life cycles and natural histories steadily get shifted from the dense-covered, tall-canopied primary-growth deciduous and evergreen forests at altitudes of 656.17 – 5,249.34 feet (200 – 1,600 meters) above sea level into:

  • Degraded scrublands near palm oil plantations;
  • Secondary-growth forests.

 

Large Indian Civet's native ecosystems: Haa Valley, steep north-south valley in western Bhutan's Haa District ~

Haa District contains Torsa Strict Nature Reserve, a protected area with no resident human population.
Haa Valley, Bhutan
Haa Valley, Bhutan

Conclusion: A hope and a future for near-threatened Large Indian Civets -- speedy-pawed savvy disguisers and escape artists -- in 21st century challenges to survival?

 

Large Indian civets can be considered savvy disguise-masters and escape-artists. But they confront their nemeses in:

  • Agro-industrialization;
  • Over-hunting;
  • Suburbanization.

The expanding urban and shrinking wildland interfaces compound the environmental damage from redesigned and reduced natural habitats by rendering escape routes and faunal camouflage ineffective. Clever disguises and speedy paws indeed demand hiding places. They do not work in human-friendly, wildlife-unfriendly niches defined by:

  • Blue and green corridors;
  • Communication and transportation networks;
  • Farms and plantations;
  • Perfumeries and restaurants;
  • Projectile- and snare-traps.

But fortunately the perception of large Indian civets by area environmentalists, power-holders, and scientists extends beyond faunal definitions as:

  • Dispossessed mammals dashing after plump poultry;
  • Exotic meat destined for top-notch dining;
  • Fragrant musk distilled into upscale perfumes.

 

Large Indian Civets' new marine homelands: Viverra zibetha's introduction into the Andaman Island Archipelago in the Bay of Bengal was driven by demands of the perfume industry.

Andaman Islands
Andaman Islands

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.

 

 

Large Indian Civet (Viverra zibetha)

illustration by Jacques de Sève (active 1742 - 1788)
Johann Christian Daniel Schreber, Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur: Plates 81 - 165 (1774 - 1846), Plate CXII
Johann Christian Daniel Schreber, Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur: Plates 81 - 165 (1774 - 1846), Plate CXII

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Large Indian Civets' native landscape: Bagan, an ancient city in central Myanmar's Mandalay Region, resplendent with over 2200 pagodas and temples dating from 9th - 13th centuries.

View over the plain of Bagan
View over the plain of Bagan
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: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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