Sulawesi Brown Palm Civets (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii): Ringtails of One Indonesian Island

by DerdriuMarriner

Most civets call more than one country home. Being native to just one confers the title endemic. Sulawesi brown palm civets live vulnerably on only one Indonesian island.

Africa and Asia are the homelands of ground-dwelling, night-foraging, tree-loving civets. People outside South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa historically associate civets with captivity, domestication, or perfume. Civets cooperate affectionately with placement in parks and zoos and loyally with training as family pets and in pest control.

Their decreasing role in perfume-making undoubtedly does not cause them any regrets.

Retrieval of musk to stabilize perfumes involves the civet’s death historically and glandular scrapings nowadays. Either way, it therefore is not unexpected that many civets find their survival and sustainability endangered or vulnerable. As an example and in line with Borneo’s endemic otter civets, Sulawesi brown palm civets lay claim to just one of Indonesia’s islands.

Sulawesi Palm Civets' ecosystem: Danau Lindu, a tectonic lake in Lore Lindu National Park, Central Sulawesi province.

The park contains megaliths of uncertain age and uncertain origin.
Danau Lindu in Lore Lindu National Park, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
Danau Lindu in Lore Lindu National Park, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia


The Republic of Indonesia claims no territory on mainland Asia. It instead exists as an extensive archipelago, a multi-cultural nation, and a sovereign state. The Indonesian Naval Hydro-Oceanographic Office gives 17,508 as the total number of islands within the world’s largest archipelago. But the Indonesian republic has as cultural, economic, political, and social center just five islands:

  • Kalimantan, on the world’s 3rd largest island, Borneo;
  • Java, the world’s 13th largest island;
  • Papua Barat, on the world’s 2nd largest island, New Guinea;
  • Sulawesi, 11th largest;
  • Sumatra, 6th largest.

All five islands have predominantly East Asian flora. But Sulawesi mixes Asian and Australasian fauna whereas Java, Kalimantan, and Sumatra shelter East Asian mammals and West Papua specializes in marsupials. 


miniature water buffaloes: top (figure 2), bottom (fig. 1), respectively: Lowland anoa (Bubalus depressicornis), endemic to Sulawesi and offshore Buton Island, is world's smallest; tamaraw (B. mindorensis) is endemic to Mindoro, Philippines.

illustration by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929)
Plate X, opp. p. 128
Plate X, opp. p. 128


Many faunal species are endemic to Sulawesi alone. For example, the “iron island” exclusively attracts as insular primates:

  • Booted (Macaca ochreata) and moor (M. maura) macaques;
  • Diana’s (Tarsius dentatus), Lariang (T. lariang), and pygmy (T. pumilus) tarsiers.

Just the earthquake-prone island’s karst topography in the South Province’s Maros Regency claims as freshwater crustaceans and ray-fins:

  • False-spider cave-crabs (Cancrocaeca xenomorpha).
  • Small-eyed gudgeons (Bostrychus microphthalmus).

Only Sulawesi’s fresh, inland waters fill the bio-geographical needs of:

  • Buntingi ricefishes (Adrianichthys kruyti, A. oophorus, A. poptae, A. roseni);
  • Poso bungo gobies (Weberogobius amadi);
  • Rabbit snails (Tylomelania spp).

Nowhere other than Sulawesi and its South East Province’s inclusion of nearby Buton Island harbor:

  • Gray’s brush-turkeys (Macrocephalon maleo);
  • Midget buffaloes (Bubalus quarlesi, B. depressicornis).


Sulawesi Palm Civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii) range

Distribution data from IUCN Red List
Distribution data from IUCN Red List


Sulawesi in fact acts as the sole homeland of Sulawesi brown palm civets (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii). Sulawesi brown palm civets appear as native wildlife of:

  • Central Sulawesi Province, inland from Palu and throughout the East Peninsula;
  • North Sulawesi, throughout the Minahasa Peninsula;
  • Southeast Sulawesi, at the tip of the Southeast Peninsula fronting the Flores Sea.

Up to elevations of 8,530.18 feet (2,600 meters), they can be found naturally in:

  • Cloud primary-growth rainforests;
  • Lower and upper montane primary-growth rainforests;
  • Lowland primary-growth rainforests.

They may tolerate:

  • Farmland and forest mosaics;
  • Forest and savannah mosaics;
  • Grasslands.

They never settle:

  • Gorontalo Province, which shares Minhasa Peninsula with Central and North Sulawesi Provinces;
  • South Sulawesi Province, with its South Peninsula;
  • West Sulawesi Province. 


Hermann Schlegel (June 10, 1804–January 17, 1884) served for 33 years as assistant and protégé of Coenraad Jacob Temminck (March 31, 1778–January 30, 1858), 1st director of National Natural History Museum at Leiden, before succeeding his mentor in 1858.

Hermann Schlegel is credited with formal description of Sulawesi Palm Civet.
Dr. F.A. Jentinck, Notes from the Leyden Museum (1884), vol. VI, frontispiece
Dr. F.A. Jentinck, Notes from the Leyden Museum (1884), vol. VI, frontispiece


The formal description of Sulawesi brown palm civets comes in 1877 from Hermann Schlegel (June 10, 1804 – January 17, 1884), as:

  • Altenburg-born German ornithologist;
  • Vienna university student of Leopold Fitzinger (April 13, 1802 – September 20, 1884) and Johann Jakob Heckel (January 23, 1790 – March 1, 1857);
  • Wiener Naturhistorische Museum and Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie zoologist.

The genus Macrogalidia derives from the ancient Greek:

  • μακρός (makrós, “long”);
  • Γαλινθιάς (Galanthias), who becomes a little weasel for facilitating Heracles’ birth to Alcmene and Zeus.

The species musschenbroekii memorializes Pieter van Musschenbroek (March 14, 1692 – September 19, 1761), as:

  • Leiden-born Dutch scientist;
  • London student of Sir Isaac Newton (December 25, 1642 – March 20, 1727);
  • Universities of Duisburg, Leiden, and Utrecht professor. 


Sulawesi Brown Palm Civet's species name, musschenbroekii, honors Dutch scientist Pieter van Musschenbroek (March 14, 1692 - September 19, 1761):

1741 portrait by Hiëronymus van der Meij (1687-1761)
Pieter van Musschenbroek is credited with, c. late 1745, the Leyden jar, later used in Ben Franklin's kite experiment.
Pieter van Musschenbroek is credited with, c. late 1745, the Leyden jar, later used in Ben Franklin's kite experiment.


But 125+ years after the Schlegel taxonomy, Sulawesi brown palm civets are unfamiliar to wildlife-lovers worldwide. For example, scientists base their information upon 28 specimens, with half described before 1900 and half afterward. They nevertheless do know how to recognize living specimens as having:

  • Alert, pale-patched ears;
  • Big, dark-adapted, pale-ringed, rounded eyes;
  • Brown and white fine, long, super-sensory whiskers;
  • Chestnut brown upper-parts, lightened by many paler hairs;
  • Long tail, with dark tip, darkened under-side, and 7 – 11 each of alternating dark and pale brown rings; Pale-lined upper lip;
  • Mid-dorsal spots and stripes arranged longitudinally;
  • Red-tinged chest;
  • Short, soft fur;
  • Tawny to white under-parts;
  • 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, and 8 molars;
  • 20 curved, retractile, sharp claws. 


Sulawesi Brown Palm Civet (Macrogalidia musschenbroekii), under synonym of Paradoxurus musschenbroekii

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


Per living and museum specimens, physically and sexually mature Sulawesi brown palm civets attain:

  • Head-and-body lengths of 25.59 – 26.77 inches (650 – 680 millimeters) for females and 28.15 (715) for males;
  • Tail lengths of 17.52 – 18.90 inches (445 – 480 millimeters) for females and 21.26 (540) for males;
  • Weights of 8.49 – 13.45 pounds (3.85 – 6.1 kilograms), with females occupying the lower ranges.

Stomach contents usually include:

  • Birds, especially Gray’s brush-turkeys (Macrocephalon maleo), and including eggs, feathers and feet;
  • Fruits, especially cultivated bananas, palm-fruits, and papayas;
  • Grasses;
  • Insects;
  • Small mammals, especially Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus) and warty piglets (Sus celebensis).

Two pairs of teats suggest bi-annual litters of 1 – 3 offspring.


Otter Civet: skeleton and bottoms of front and hind paws ~

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

Conclusion: An elusive acrobat, considered Sulawesi's top predator after pythons, struggles to maintain invisibility amidst habitat challenges


Otter (Cynogale bennettii) and Sulawesi brown palm civets are close relatives. They respectively favor only Borneo and Sulawesi. They respectively function as endangered specialists and vulnerable generalists in super-fragmented, super-reduced habitats experiencing:

  • Modernizing versus traditionalist interactions;
  • Urban and wildland interfaces.

The latter’s monthly needs include:

  • Actual evapo-transpiration: 71.21 inches (1,808.68 millimeters);
  • Forages: 1.74 – 4.38 square miles (450 – 900 hectares);
  • Precipitation: 8.93 inches (226.87 millimeters);
  • Temperatures: 67.48°F (19.71°C).

Their conservation needs legislative and research prioritizations. Fortunately, they already occupy:

  • Dumonga Bone, Lore Lindu, and Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Parks;
  • Gunung Ambang Nature, Morowali Natural, Tangkoko-Batuangas  Dua Saudara Nature, and Tanjung Peropa Wildlife Reserves;
  • Mangolo Recreation Forest;
  • Mount Klabat.


Tokalalaea Megalith: one of numerous mysterious megaliths in Lore Lindu National Park

Central Sulawesi province
Central Sulawesi province



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


Sulawesi Brown Civets' landscapes: Mount Tangkoko (Gunung Tangkoko), 3769.6 feet (1,149 meters) in elevation, on Sulawesi's northeastern tip, one of 3 mountains in Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve (Tangkoko-Batuangus Dua Saudara)

"Looking toward Gunong Tangkoko , From the sea"
"Looking toward Gunong Tangkoko , From the sea"

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Sulawesi Brown Palm Civets' ecosystems: Manado, capital city of North Sulawesi province, is surrounded by mountains.

Manado (Minahasan: manadou or wanazou "on the far coast" or "in the distance") on Bay of Manado, northern tip of Sulawesi:
Manado on Bay of Manado
Manado on Bay of Manado
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Ecology of Sulawesi by Tony Whitten, Greg S. Henderson, and Muslimin Mustafa ~ The Ecology of Indonesia Series, Vol. IV

Sulawesi is one of the least-known islands of Indonesia. "The Ecology of Sulawesi" distills info from over 1600 sources, previously only available in Dutch, German, or Indonesian.
Sulawesi-themed books

Mountain Jungle Eyes: green t-shirt ~ Available via Amazon

Jungle travelers may never know that they are being quietly watched by Sulawesi's "invisible" acrobats, Sulawesi Brown Palm Civets.
wildlife t-shirts

Pygmy Seahorse, Walea Island, Sulawesi: photo by Kurt Amsler ~ Pygmy seahorses are found throughout Coral Triangle, which includes Sulawesi Brown Palm Civet homeland of Sulawesi.

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box of dimensions 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle - Ardea Wildlife Pets

Jungle Eyes: green t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

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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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ologsinquito on 07/31/2014

That Jungle Eyes T-shirt is quite striking.

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