Malay Civets (Viverra tangalunga): Ringtails of Insular and Peninsular Southeast Asia

by DerdriuMarriner

Businesses consider Sulawesi practical for musk-farming. But they disdain female Sulawesi brown palm civet musk. The Malay civet is being imported and displacing native civets.

The musky stabilizer in perfume comes from the scent glands of civets.
• Its extraction historically depends upon killing the conflict-avoiding, ground-dwelling, night-foraging, opportunistic-feeding mammal.
• Its removal nowadays entails disfiguring scrapes to the glands in question.

Businesses find that Sulawesi accommodates their needs to lower production costs and raise profit margins.
• Sulawesi brown palm civet females produce musk in what perfume-makers deem less desirable quality and quantities.

The solution involves:
• Holding onto Sulawesi as one of Southeast Asia's musk-farming zones;
• Importing female and male Malay civets whose musk historically and presently meets perfume-making quality control standards.

But the naturalization of Malay civets on Sulawesi is being realized to the detriment of Sulawesi's native brown palm civets.

Malay Civets have been successfully naturalized on Sulawesi, to the detriment of Sulawesi Brown Palm Civets, the island's endemic civet species.

Grand Naemundung Mini Zoo, Tandurusa, Bitung, North Sulawesi Province, northeastern Sulawesi
Grand Naemundung Mini Zoo, Tandurusa, Bitung, North Sulawesi Province, northeastern Sulawesi


Malay civets also answer to the common, non-scientific, popular, trivial, vulgar names of:

  • Malayan civet;
  • Oriental civet.

But not one of the names can be considered optimal in relaying complete information. Nomenclature ideally communicates the location and the look of an object or organism. The designation indeed does involve a night-foraging, opportunistic-feeding carnivore whose name, civet, broadcasts the mammal’s musky body odor and scent glands. But the broad-ranging adjective Oriental historically identifies:

  • Afro-Asia’s Arab Republic of Egypt;
  • All Asia.

The narrow-focused adjectives Malay and Malayan semantically indicate only insular and peninsular Malaysia. And yet the Malay civet is:

  • Absent from Egypt;
  • Native to more than Malaysia;
  • Naturalized to parts of Indonesia;
  • Non-native to much of mainland Asia.


Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga) range

Color code: Dark Green = extant; Light Green = probably extant
Distribution data from IUCN Red List
Distribution data from IUCN Red List


Southeast Asian islands and peninsulas accommodate the life cycles and natural histories of Malay civets. Malay civets indeed belong among the wildlife flourishing on:

  • Brunei;
  • Indonesia (Amboina, Bangka, Bawal, Java, Kalimantan, Karimata, Rhio-Lingga Archipelago, Sumatra, Telok Pai);
  • Malaysia (Banggi, Langkawi, Malay Peninsula, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak);
  • Philippines (Bohol, Busuanga, Camiguin, Catanduanes, Culion, Leyte, Luzon, Mindanao, Mindoro, Negros, Palwan, Panay, Samar, Sibuyan, Siguijor);
  • Singapore.

Mammalogists sometimes consider within the Malay civet’s native bio-geography:

  • Cambodia;
  • China;
  • Thailand.

But mammalian surveys do not mention Malay civets among the above-mentioned countries’ fauna. Coastal stretches notwithstanding and excepting the Thai Peninsula, mainland Cambodia, China, and Thailand go against the grain of the Malay civet’s overwhelmingly insular and peninsular predilections for Asian distributional ranges.


Historical range of Malay Civets includes Singapore, where Marina Bay Sands, a resort fronting Marina Bay and completed in February 2011, stands as world's most expensive building at $4.7 billion ~

Space is at a premium on the lozenge-shaped island, where development trumps original vegetation.
Singapore (Malay: Pulau Ujong, "island at the end") lies off southern tip of Malay Peninsula.
Singapore (Malay: Pulau Ujong, "island at the end") lies off southern tip of Malay Peninsula.


In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the distributional ranges of Malay civets continue to expand. Malay civets indeed cooperate with import, introduction, and naturalization to islands outside Malaysia. They now count among the Indonesian wildlife on:

  • Buton;
  • Maluku;
  • Sulawesi.

Malay civets in fact endure environmental stress more effectively than Sulawesi palm civets (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii) endemic (geographically exclusive) to the same-named island. They find themselves in demand for their abundant, high-quality civetone. Civetone generates revenue for homeopathologists (traditional medicine practitioners) and perfumists. It is produced:

  • Naturally by civet scent glands to convey information, mark territories, and stink-bomb predators;
  • Synthetically from oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) chemicals.

Survival-smarts motivate Malay civet adaptability to relocation to Indonesia’s assembly-line musk farms.


Sulawesi Brown Palm Civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii), under synonym of Paradoxurus musschenbroekii: Sulawesi Civets tolerate environmental stress less effectively than Malay Civets.

illustration by Bruno Geisler (October 5, 1857 - October 7, 1945)
A.B. Meyer, Säugethiere vom Celebes- und Philippinen-Archipel (1896). I, Taf. V
A.B. Meyer, Säugethiere vom Celebes- und Philippinen-Archipel (1896). I, Taf. V


And yet forests historically accede to Malay civet biology and sustainability. Malay civets accept:

  • Brush-, grass-, and scrub-lands;
  • Disturbed, logged, and secondary-growth forests;
  • Plantation and village outskirts.

But lowland, montane, and mossy primary-growth jungles and rainforests assume bio-geographical priority for:

  • Ambushing or stalking small amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles;
  • Climbing trees to elude predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles;
  • Denning among surface-level brush and logs or in home-made burrows and vegetation-layered nests;
  • Establishing home and territorial range distinctions between same genders and overlaps with opposite genders;
  • Foraging for eggs, fish, fruits, insects, and roots;
  • Foraying from dusk to dawn;
  • Raising bi-annual litters of 1 – 4 furry offspring whose eyes open in 10 days and nursing requires 30 days.



Jungle, sylvan, and wooded habitats emerge as most conducive to Malay civet survival. Niching among lush vegetation is unexpected given the Malay civet’s physique. Super-spotted and striped Malay civets look high-profile. But their color-patterned physique operates as super-smart camouflage. It picks up the play of dark and light over bark within dense-shrouded, tall-canopied stands. For example, the body projects:

  • Black, 5-clawed, 5-digited paws;
  • Bristling, long-haired dorsal mane from shoulders to tail tip;
  • Dark-spotted, orderly rows;
  • Short grey, tawny fur;
  • Striped neck and throat of 3 black and 2 white bands.

The head reveals:

  • Alert, wide-spaced ears;
  • Big, dark-adapted eyes;
  • Light, pointed muzzle;
  • White lower-eye patches.

The tail sequences about 15 each of alternating dark and pale bands.


Malay Palm Civet (Viverra tangalunga)

Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Genova, Genoa, northwestern Italy
Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Genova, Genoa, northwestern Italy


Not only appearance and bio-geography but also comportment contribute to the Malay civet’s present survival and projected sustainability. Scientists describe the Malay civet’s conservation status as of least concern among viverrids. Their conclusions ensue logically from considering interactive impacts of:

  • Terrestrial agility;
  • Unobtrusive physique;
  • Vast bio-geography.

Behavior functions as the consolidating factor. Malay civets perfect:

  • Adaptability;
  • Conflict-avoidance;
  • Elusiveness;
  • Reclusiveness.

But they rely upon powerful offenses and self-defenses if need be:

  • Neck-snapping;
  • 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, and 8 molars;
  • Stink-bombs;
  • 20 curved, sharp claws.

Physical and sexual maturity indeed streamlines:

  • Head-and-body lengths of 23.03 – 37.02 inches (58.5 – 95 centimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 11.81 – 18.98 inches (30 – 48.2 centimeters);
  • Weights of 11.02 – 24.25 pounds (5 – 11 kilograms).


Conclusion: Malay Civets and their Survival-Smarts


All civets demand in-depth scrutiny from environmentalists. For all civets, the deadline for conducting fieldwork and interpreting data draws ever closer because of existential threats from:

  • Clear-cutting loggers;
  • Habitat-fragmenting agro-industrialists;
  • Niche-reconfiguring miners;
  • Population-reducing hunters.

Malay civets emerge as super-relevant research subjects because of their survival-smarts against:

  • Environment-reconfiguring agro-industrialists;
  • Exotic pet-traders;
  • Flesh-, fragrance-, and fur-hunters;
  • Projectile- and snare-trappers.

They find their habitats impacted but their bio-geography holding steady 180+ years after their formal presentation in 1832 to wildlife-loving amateurs and scientists outside Asia by Walsall-born British physician and zoologist John Edward Gray (February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875), as:

  • British Museum scientist;
  • Hardwicke collection taxonomist.

As obligate pest-controllers and seed-dispersers, they merit:

  • Governmental protection;
  • Scientific research;
  • Wildlife-loving support.


Malay Civet landscapes: The Langkawi Sky Bridge above the rainforest canopy, Langkawi (colloquial Malay: "island of reddish-brown eagle") Island, Andaman Sea, offshore northwestern Malaysia

Completed in 2005, the sky bridge curves for 410 feet (125 metes) at a height of 2,300 feet (700 meters) above sea level
Langkawi Island (Pulau Langkawi) is in Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah (Malay: Langkawi Permata Kedah) Archipelago
Langkawi Island (Pulau Langkawi) is in Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah (Malay: Langkawi Permata Kedah) Archipelago



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.


Malay Civet - Viverra tangalunga - ConCaSa (Conservation of Carnivores in Sabah) ~ Deramakot Forest Reserve, Sabah, northern Borneo island, Malaysia

Uploaded to YouTube on May 24, 2009, by 79anwil ~ URL:

Sources Consulted


Arnold, Michael L. 2008. Reticulate Evolution and Humans: Origins and Ecology. Oxford University Press.

Azlan, M.J. 2003. "The Diversity and Conservation of Mustelids, Viverrids, and Herpestids in a Disturbed Forest in Peninsular Malaysia." Small Carnivore Conservation 29:8-9.

Azlan, M.J.; Hon, J.; Duckworth, J.W.; Jennings, A.; and Veron, G. 2008. "Viverra tangalunga." In: IUCN 2014. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 

  • Available at:

Bell, D.; Roberton, S.; and Hunter, P. R. 2004. "Animal Origins of SARS Coronavirus: Possible Links with the International Trade in Small Carnivores." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences 359:1107-1114.

Bisby, F.A.; Roskov, Y.R.; Orrell, T.M.; Nicolson, D.; Paglinawan, L.E.; Bailly, N.; Kirk, P.M.; Bourgoin, T.; Baillargeon, G.; and Ouvrard, D. (red.). 2011. "Viverra tangalunga Gray, 1832. Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2011 Annual Checklist. Reading, UK. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

Boelens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; and Grayson, Michael. 2009. The Eponym Dictionary of Mammals. Johns Hopkins University. 

Boudet, Ch. 10 January 2009. "Species Sheet: Malayan Civet, Malay Civet, Oriental Civet." Mammals' Planet: Vs n°4, 04/2010. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

Boudet, Ch. 10 January 2009. "Subspecies Sheet: Langkawi Island Civet." Mammals' Planet: Vs n°4, 04/2010. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

Boudet, Ch. 10 January 2009. "Subspecies Sheet [Viverra tangalunga tangalunga]." Mammals' Planet: Vs n°4, 04/2010. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

Cassell's Universal Portrait Gallery: A Collection of Portraits of Celebrities, English and Foreign. With Facsimile Autographs. 1895. London, Paris & Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Limited.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Colón, C. P. 1999. Ecology of the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in a Logged and Unlogged Forest in Sabah, East Malaysia. PhD dissertation. New York, NY: Fordham University.

Colon, C. P. 2002. "Ranging Behaviour and Activity of the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga) in a Logged and an Unlogged Forest in Danum Valley, East Malaysia." Journal of Zoology (London) 257:473-485.

Corbet, G.B.; and Hill, J.E. 1992. Mammals of the Indo-Malayan Region: A Systematic Review. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Dannenfeldt, K.H. 1985. "Europe Discovers Civet Cats and Civet." Journal of the History of
Biology 18:403-431.

Driver, Stephanie (ed.). 2008. Exploring Mammals, Volume 3. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.

Duff, Andrew; and Lawson, Ann. 2004. Mammals of the World: A Checklist. Yale University Press.

Ewer, R.F. 1998. The Carnivores. Cornell University Press: Cornell Paperbacks.

Francis, Charles M. 1 January 2008. A Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia. New Holland Publishers.

Gaubert, P.; and Cordeiro-Estrela, P. 2006. “Phylogenetic Systematics and Tempo of Evolution of the Viverrinae (Mammalia, Carnivora, viverridae) within Feliformians: Implications for Faunal Exchanges between Asia and Africa.” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 41:266-278.

Gervais, Paul. 1855. Histoire naturelle des Mammifères: Carnivores, Proboscidiens, Jumentés, Bisulques, Édentés, Marsupiaux, Monotrèmes, Phoques, Sirénides et Cétacés. Paris: L. Curmer.

Gittleman, John L.; Funk, Stephan M.; Macdonald, David; and Wayne, Robert K. (eds.). 2001. Carnivore Conservation. Cambridge University Press: Conservation Biology 5.

Gray, J. E. 1864. "A Revision of the Genera and Species of Viverrine Animals (Viverridae), Founded on the Collection in the British Museum." Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 502–579.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Hayssen, Virginia; Van Tienhoven, Ari; and Van Tienoven, Ans. Asdell’s Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction: A Compendium of Species-Specific Data. Cornell University, 1993.

Heydon, M.J.; and Bulloh, P. 1996. The Impact of Selective Logging upon Sympatric Civet
Species (Viverridae) in Borneo." Oryx 30:31-36.

Hunter, Luke; and Barrett, Priscilla. 2011. A Field Guide to the Carnivores of the World. London, Cape Town, Sydney, Auckland: New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd.

Jennings, A. P.; and Veron, J. 2009. "Family Viverridae (Civets, Genets, and Oyans)." In: Don E. Wilson and Russel Mittermeier (Hrsg.) Handbook of the Mammals of the World Volume 1: Carnivores. Lynx Edicions.

Jennings, A. P.; Seymour, A. S.; and Dunstone, N. 2006. "Ranging Behaviour, Spatial Organisation, and Activity of the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga) on Buton Island, Sulawesi." Journal of Zoology (London) 268:63-71.

Jennings, A.P.; Zubaid, A.; and Veron, G. 2010. "Ranging Behaviour, Activity, Habitat Use, and
Morphology of the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga) on Peninsular Malaysia and Comparison
with Studies on Borneo and Sulawesi." Mammalian Biology 75:437-446.

Kitchener, A.; Clegg, T.; Thompson, N.; Wilk, H.; and MacDonald, A. 1993. "First Records of the Malay Civet, Viverra tangalunga Gray, 1832, on Seram with Notes on the Seram Bandicoot Rhynchomeles prattorum Thomas, 1920." International Journal of Mammalian Biology 58:378-380.

Kondo, H.; Tesar, J.; Cloud, D.; Kagan, L. (eds.). 1972. Civets, Genets, and Linsangs, Volume 2, 3rd Edition. Milan: Fratelli Fabbri Editori.

Larivière, Serge. 2004. "Civets, Genets, and Linsangs (Viverridae)." Pp. 335-339 in Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Volume 14: Mammals III, edited by Michael Hutchins, Devra G. Kleiman, Valerius Geist, and Melissa C. McDade. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, Inc., division of Thomson Learning Inc.

Lim, N.T.; and Ouyang, X. 2012. "Occurrence of the Malay Civet, Viverra Tangalunga (Mammalia: Carnivora: Viverridae) in Singapore." Nature in Singapore 5:79-81.

Lundrigan, Barbara; and Harris, Julie. 2000. "Viverra tangalunga: Malayan Civet (On-line)." Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

Lydekker, Richard. 1896. A Hand-book to the Carnivora, Part I. Cats, Civets, and Mungooses. London, England: Edward Lloyd, Limited: Lloyd's Natural History Edited by R. Bowdler Sharpe. 

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Majerus, Kara. 27 September 2011. "I'm a Civet: Get Me Out of Here!" The Naked Scientists: Articles > Biology. University of Cambridge. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

"Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga)." ARKive: Species > Mammals. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

"Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga)." SAFE: Stability of Altered Forest Systems. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

"Malayan Civet." Thai National Parks: Species of Thailand > All Mammals. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 

  • Available at:

“Malayan Civet Pictures and Facts.” The Website of Everything: Animals > Mammals > Carnivora > Viverridae > Hemigalinae > Chrotogale. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

"Malayan Civet (Viverra tangalunga)." A-Z Animals. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

"Malayan Civet, Viverra tangalunga." redOrbit: Reference Library > Mammals. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

Meijaard, E. (ed.). 2005. Life After Logging: Reconciling Wildlife Conservation and Production Forestry in Indonesian Borneo. Center for International Forestry Research.

Meyer, A.B. (Adolf Bernhard). 1896. Säugethiere vom Celebes- und Philippinen-Archipel. I. Abhandlungen und Berichte des Königlichen Zoologischen und Anthropologisch-Ethnographischen Museums zu Dresden 1896/1897, Nr. 6 & 7. Berlin: R. Friedländer & Sohn.

  • Available via Internet Archive at:

Myers, P.; Espinosa, R.; Parr, C.S.; Jones, T.; Hammond, G.S.; and Dewey, T.A. 2014. “Viverra tangalunga: Malayan Civet (On-line).” The Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 

  • Available at:
  • Available at:

Nowak, Ronald M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Volume I. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Schreiber, A.; Wirth, R.; Riffel, M.; and Van Rompaey, H. 1989. Weasels, Civets, Mongooses, and Their Relatives. An Action Plan for the Conservation of Mustelids and Viverrids. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

Veron, Geraldine. 2010. “Phylogeny of the Viverridae and ‘Viverrid-like’ Feliforms.” Pp. 64-90 in Carnivoran Evolution: New Views on Phylogeny, Form and Function edited by Anjali Goswami and Anthony Friscia. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge Studies in Morphology and Molecules.

"Viverra tangalunga (Malay Civet)." ZipcodeZoo: Species Identififer 134478. Retrieved August 1, 2014.

  • Available at:

"Viverra tangalunga: Malayan Civet." Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 

  • Available at:

Wemmer, Chris; and Watling, Dick. 1986. "Ecology and Status of the Sulawesi Palm Civet Macrogalidia musschenbroekii schlegel." Biological Conservation 35(1):1-17.

Wilson, Don E.; and Cole, F. Russell. 2000. Common Names of Mammals of the World. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Wilson, Don E.; and Reeder, DeeAnn M. (editors). 2005. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed), Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Wrobel, Murray (Editor). 2007. Elsevier's Dictionary of Mammals: Latin English German French Italian. Oxford, U.K.: Elsevier B.V.


Malay Civets' survival-smarts enable them to thrive in development hotspots such as Penang Island (Malay: Pulau Pinang), on west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

Aerial evening scene of Penang Island - Tanjung Bungah
Aerial evening scene of Penang Island - Tanjung Bungah
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 Malay Civets.
wildlife t-shirts

Mammals of the World: A Checklist by Andrew Duff and Ann Lawson

This is the first checklist of mammals of the world to include both English and scientific names of every species as well as a brief summary of distribution and habitat.
mammal-themed books

Jungle Eyes: green t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Jungle Eyes
Ad AllPosters

Singapore: World City by Kim Inglis

Traces transformation of Singapore from a tiny island into a global superpower. References to Malay civets (p. 106).
Malay civets in books

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
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?



You might also like

Banded Palm Civets (Hemigalus derbyanus): Ringtails of Borneo,...

Banded palm civets are not among the spotted civets. They have musky-smelling...

Hose's Palm Civets (Diplogale hosei): Non-Ringtails of Borneo

In line with all civets, Hose’s palm civets have musky, stinky scent glands. ...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...