Sri Lankan Brown Palm Civets (Paradoxurus montanus): Non-Ringtails of Sri Lanka

by DerdriuMarriner

Sri Lankan brown palm civets have grey-brown bodies with yellow-white tail tips. They like palm flower sap. They live in Sri Lanka's cloud-forested highlands and dry mountaintops.

Accurate nomenclature and appropriate terminology assume priority throughout recorded time. For example, from the Torah's (600 B.C.E.? - 400 B.C.E.?) first Garden and flood-proof Ark to novelist, poet, translator Boris Pasternak's (Feb. 10, 1890 – May 30, 1960) early twentieth-century Russia, correct procedure demands calling all beings by their proper names.

Cycles of misconceptions and misperceptions ensue from mistaken identities. For instance, some of Asia's civets inhabit one country exclusively while others live natively in several.

An insular habitat such as Sri Lanka is expected to host endemics. Mammalogists now know that Sri Lanka's known palm tree fruit-eating, juice-tippling civets are misclassified and that Sri Lankan brown palm civets and two other species are the endemics.

Paradoxurus hermaphroditus hermaphroditus, described by Peter Simon Pallas as having a range including Sri Lanka (C. Srinivasalu, p. 344) ~

"Heads of two examples of Paradoxurus hermaphroditus hermaphroditus, showing variation in pattern." (R.I. Pocock)
R.I. Pocock, The Fauna of British India, Vol. I (1939), between pp. 390-391
R.I. Pocock, The Fauna of British India, Vol. I (1939), between pp. 390-391


From the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and throughout the twentieth century, mammalogists generally attribute three civet species to the North Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka. They typically cluster the pearl-shaped island's civets into two groups:

  • The endemic golden palm civet, Paradoxurus zeylonensis;

  • The native Asian palm (P. hermaphroditus) and small Indian (Viverricula indica) civets.

They usually debate the identification of the endemic civet more than those of the natives, whose homelands extend outside Sri Lanka and throughout East and Southeast Asia. And yet the formal taxonomies of the Asian and golden palm civets derive from the same-year conclusions of one specialist, Berlin-born German botanist and zoologist Peter Simon Pallas (September 22, 1741 – September 8, 1811).


Paradoxurus zeylonensis

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


The official descriptions of Asian and golden palm civets date back to 1777. The formal identification of golden palm civets specifically deals with a preserved specimen of unknown provenance. Scientists do not have access to the Pallas specimen even though they still may consult the Pallas description published in respected Weißensee-born German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber's (January 17, 1739 – December 10, 1810) reputable Die Säugethiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen (“Mammals Illustrated from Nature with Descriptions”) of 1778. They know that the taxonomy is based upon examination of a spirits-preserved specimen in the nature cabinet of Paul I (October 1, 1754 – March 23, 1801) during the Russian Emperor's Crown Prince years.


Peter Simon Pallas is credited with descriptions of Asian Common Palm Civet and of Golden Palm Civet in 1777.

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


Other descriptions of other specimens from Sri Lanka appear in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:

  • William Thomas Blanford (October 7, 1832 – June 23, 1905) in 1885;

  • Georges-Frédéric Cuvier (June 28, 1773 – July 24, 1838) in 1822;

  • Edward Frederick Kelaart (November 21, 1819 – August 31, 1860) in 1852;

  • Reginald Innes Pocock (March 4, 1863 – August 9, 1947) in 1933.

The most recent identification -- published in 2009 -- comes from Australian National University Professor Colin P. Groves. Institutions whose preserved Sri Lankan palm civet skins and skulls remain accessible include:

  • Colombo University in Sri Lanka;

  • The British Museum of Natural History in London, England;

  • The National Museum of Sri Lanka at Colombo.


Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier, known as Georges Cuvier, provided, in 1822, an early description of Sri Lankan civet.

portrait by Mattheus Ignatius van Bree (February 22, 1773 - December 15, 1839)
portrait by Mattheus Ignatius van Bree (February 22, 1773 - December 15, 1839)


Scientists in the twentieth century accept all of the above-mentioned scientists as worthy taxonomists. But the classifications which appear likeliest to survive the first quarter of the twenty-first century are the Cuvier, Groves, and Kelaart conclusions. The Groves publication challenges the Pallas classification as based upon an inaccessible, unfamiliar specimen which may represent the golden-colored morph of an Asian palm civet. The Groves taxonomy instead chooses as correct nomenclature:

  • A new species, the golden dry-zone palm civet (P. stenocephalus);

  • A species previously relegated as synonymous with the Pallas specimen, the golden wet-zone palm civet (P. aureus);

  • A species previously represented as synonymous with the Pallas specimen, the Sri Lankan brown palm civet (P. montanus).


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 Groves article acknowledges brown and gold as basic colors for Sri Lanka's endemic palm civets. It bio-geographically associates live-trapped and museum specimens as follows:

  • Brownish gold dry-zone palm civets, P. stenocephalus, per Commercial Bank professional Channa Rajapaksha's live-trapped specimens;

  • Brownish-reddish gold wet-zone palm civets, P. aureus, per the Cuvier specimen;

  • Greyish brown (dry- and wet-zone) palm civets, P. montanus, per the Kelaart specimen.

Only dry-zone endemics therefore claim one biotic (life) zone. Wet-zone endemics cluster in:

  • Cloud-forest niches in the wet-zone's Central Highlands;

  • Intermediate lowland niches between dry- and wet-zones.

Sri Lankan brown palm civets inhabit:

  • Cloud-forested niches in the wet Central Highlands;

  • Lowland to Knuckles Range niches in the dry-zone.


Light specimens obtained by Mr. Whyte may have been collected in Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, a tropical rainforest around Adam's Peak, also known as Sri Pada, in southern reaches of Central Highlands.

Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces, Sri Lanka
Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces, Sri Lanka


Brown describes:

  • The dark (fulvus), montane (montanus) Kelaart specimen;
  • The grey museum-preserved and Rajapaksha-trapped specimens;
  • The light Whyte specimens possibly from the Central Highlands’ Peak Wilderness.

The Whyte specimens do not specify bio-geography or temporality other than Ceylon’s Hills. Their classification therefore goes nowhere for the time being. But the first two sets have sufficient commonalities to employ same-species classification as Sri Lankan palm civets:

  • Backward-narrowed occipital (posterior head/skull) crest;
  • Dorsal stripe running from rump to tail base and supplemented on each side by a shorter lumbar stripe;
  • Flat, low brain-case;
  • Narrow, pointed muzzle;
  • Narrow, small skull;
  • Pale under-sides;
  • Yellow-white tail tip.

Differing interpterygoid fossa (temple-area opening) widths may suggest cloud-forest and wet-zone species or subspecies differentiation.


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



Color belongs among the physical characteristics when scientists classify the world’s organisms. It counts critically or non-critically when scientists check bio-geography and biology prefatory to constructing life cycles and natural histories. For example, a species generally displays darker and lighter color subtleties. The subtleties sometimes get packaged as:

  • Differences among morphs;
  • Distinctions between species;
  • Divisions into subspecies.

For instance, they historically inspire the apparent confusion over Sri Lanka’s brown and golden palm civets. But thanks to the Groves and Manemandra-Arachchi involvements with the Rajapaksha specimens, scientists currently lean toward interpreting :

  • Brown as identifying Asian and Sri Lankan brown palm civets;
  • Gold as indicating golden dry-zone and wet-zone palm civets;
  • Both colors morphing in the same litters.


Sri Lankan Brown Palm Civet is known colloquially in Sri Lanka as sapumal kalawedda because their scent is reminiscent of Michelia champaca flowers, known colloquially as sapumal.

Michelia champaca flowers
Michelia champaca flowers



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


Sri Lankan Brown Palm Civet landscapes: picturesque Nuwara Eliya, administrative capital of Nuwara Eliya District, features scenic geography, tea plantations, and temperate climate

Sri Lankan highlands, Central Province, Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan highlands, Central Province, Sri Lanka

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Knuckles Mountain Range (Sinhalese: Dumbara Kanduvetiya, "Misty Mountains') yielded live-trapped, surprise specimen of Sri Lankan Brown Palm Civet for banker-dedicated amateur civetologist Channa Rajapaksha.

Central Province, Sri Lanka
Central Province, Sri Lanka
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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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.
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Ramboda Falls, Nuwara Eliya, Hill Country, Sri Lanka: photo by Tony Waltham

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 - Robert Harding
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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