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.

The naturalization of Malay civets on Sulawesi nevertheless 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.


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:

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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

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Jungle travelers may never know that they are being quietly watched by "invisible" jungle dwellers, such as Malay Civets.
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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.
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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: 11/13/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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