Chrotogale owstoniOwston's palm civet

Geographic Range

The range of Owston’s palm civets (Chrotogale owstoni) extends latitudinally across Vietnam, as far south as the Gia Lai province, eastern Laos, and into a small part of southern China. No individuals have been found west of the Mekong River, which runs down the Thai/Laos border and through eastern Cambodia. Though none have ever been recorded alive in Cambodia, two stuffed specimens were discovered at the Phnom Tamao Zoo (today Phnom Penh) in the late 1990s. Many agree it is unlikely these specimens originated elsewhere (Dang et al. 2010, Timmins et al. 2016). Extensive surveys in eastern Cambodia have failed to sight them, but one of the mostly likely places they would reside — eastern Virachey National Park — has performed very little camera trapping research. Because Owston’s palm civets are so rarely seen in the wild, the size of the area they occupy remains unknown (Timmins et al. 2016). (Dang and Le, 2010; Timmins, et al., 2016)

Habitat

Owston’s palm civets have been observed at elevations ranging from 100 to 2,600 m, but only a subset of this space is typically occupied in any given area. They can be found in subtropical and tropical forests, moist lowlands, and montane forests. These habitats have one thing in common: no extreme dry season (Veron et al. 2017, Timmins et al. 2016). For example, Vietnam remains humid even during the driest months because the Annamite mountain range captures moist seaward winds. The moisture in Vietnam extends their range from plains to the top of mountains, but in other countries their elevation range is greatly restricted by the dry season. This explains why Owston’s palm civets are encountered more often in Vietnam than in any other country (Timmins et al. 2016). In the northern highlands of Laos, where colder temperatures combine with low dry-season rainfall, individuals are sighted far less often and are never seen at elevations higher than 550 m (Gray et al. 2014). It is thought that their ties to humid environments are due to their primarily invertebrate diet, like earthworms, which are most abundant in moist soil. However, this correlation has not yet been proven (Oldfield 1927). (Oldfield, 1928; Timmins, et al., 2016; Veron, et al., 2017)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2,600 m
    0.00 to ft

Physical Description

Owston’s palm civets are easily identified by the wide brown or black dorsal bands that run across their backs. Two bands start at their eyes and split at their shoulders, forming a boomerang-like shape. Thick bands continue down their backs, perpendicular to their spines, and stop in the first third of their tails. The latter two thirds of their tails are solid brown or black. Their necks and front legs are spotted with splotches of this same brown-black color. Beside the fur color of their markings, their fur color ranges from ivory to a silvery grey. The differentiation of coat colors is dependent on the time of year. Early in the year they molt, exposing shorter hair that appears lighter. Both sexes undergo this molt and there is no distinguishable difference in their background coat color or bands. (Robertson, et al., 2002)

Both sexes are long and skinny, their size and shape resembling a mix between a house cat and a ferret. As adults, Owston’s palm civets weigh between 2 and 3 kg. From the tip of their noses to the base of their tails they are 545 to 590 mm long. The length of their tails is just slightly shorter than their body length, reaching 425 to 550 mm. They have rounded ears that stand up from the top of their heads, pointed snouts to help them forage for insects, and large, black eyes which likely to help them see at night. (Robertson, et al., 2002)

Since both sexes are so morphologically similar, Owston’s palm civets must be sexed based on their external genitalia and surrounding pelage. Around the genitalia and lower bellies of females, pelage appears orange. In males, however, this orange coloration extends much farther up the belly towards the chest, and can range from faint to strikingly orange (Veron et al. 2004). (Robertson, et al., 2002; Veron, et al., 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    2 to 3 kg
    4.41 to 6.61 lb
  • Range length
    425 to 545 mm
    16.73 to 21.46 in

Reproduction

Owston’s palm civets are typically solitary, but interact during mating season. They have only ever been observed reproducing in captive zoo environments and these observations indicate a polygynous mating system. However, other civets like Masked palm civets (Paguma larvata) are known to be promiscuous, so it is likely that, in the wild, Owston’s palm civets are too (Robertson 2002, Zhou et al 2014). (Robertson, et al., 2002; Zhou, et al., 2014)

A number of studies on Owston’s palm civets have reported different phases of observed female estrous, spanning January to November. This suggests that females may display polyestrous behavior, similar to masked palm civets (Paguma larvata). However, observations of multiple estrous cycles in females has never been reported (Robertson 2002, Zhou et al. 2014). (Robertson, et al., 2002; Zhou, et al., 2014)

During estrous, females exhibit swelling of the vulva and secrete a scent that notifies males of their fertility (Zhou et al. 2014). Once a female attracts a male, copulation only lasts 2 to 3 minutes, as the female lays on the ground and purrs. About 75 to 90 days after copulating, females give birth to a litter of 1 to 3 offspring. However, in each of the observed triplet cases, one has died. Pups are small, weighing only 80 to 135 g, and born with their eyes closed, making them altricial. They develop quickly, beginning to walk after 10 days, and are fully weaned off their mother in 12 to 18 weeks. At 18 to 24 months pups are sexually mature, but it is unknown how many years they remain reproductively active after that (Robertson et al. 2002). (Robertson, et al., 2002; Zhou, et al., 2014)

  • Breeding season
    January to November
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 3
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    75 to 90 days
  • Range time to independence
    12 to 21 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    18 to 24 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    18 to 24 months

Most of the parental investment in Owston’s palm civets comes from females, who groom, feed, and eat the feces of their young. Males have been observed grooming their pups, indicating some paternal care, but mostly they take little interest. There has never been any aggression towards pups by fathers, nor has there been any behavioral deficiencies seen in pups when they were raised by both parents or only their mothers (Robertson 2002). (Robertson, et al., 2002)

Lifespan/Longevity

The average lifespan of Owston’s palm civets is entirely unknown. One individual was reported to live 11 years after capture, but no update has been given on that individual since (Robertson 2002). Some viverrids (family Viverridae), like African civets (Civettictis civetta), have been known to live 15 to 20 years (Taye 2009). (Robertson, et al., 2002; Taye, 2009)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    11 (high) years

Behavior

Like a number of other civet species, Owston’s palm civets are nocturnal (Veron et al. 2017, Laurance et al. 2008). In captivity they are seen active from approximately sundown to sunrise (17h30 to 05h00), but in the wild, they are mostly seen between 20h00 and 4h00 when it is completely dark (Gray et al. 2014). Owston’s palm civets are very good climbers, but remain on the forest floor for most of their lives, only venturing into trees to travel, forage, rest, or groom (Robertson et al. 2002). (Laurance, et al., 2008; Robertson, et al., 2002; Veron, et al., 2017)

Home Range

The home range of Owston’s palm civets is not known, but a closely related civet, common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), has a home range area between 30 and 79 ha (Nakashima et al. 2013). (Nakashima, et al., 2013)

Communication and Perception

Both male and female Owston’s palm civets mark objects with both their urine and large scent glands, which are located on their underbellies near their genetalia. This occurs most often during their breeding season, but it is uncertain if scent marking is primarily used for claiming territorial boundaries, finding breeding mates, or both equally (Robertson et al. 2002). (Robertson, et al., 2002)

Food Habits

In captivity, Owston’s palm civets eat mainly earthworms and soft fruits, and their delicate dentition suggests a similar diet in the wild (Oldfield 1927). They do most of their foraging through leaf litter on the forest floor, but have been observed climbing trees, possibly in search of food. Because they are nocturnal, this all happens at night, which has made wild observations extremely difficult. However, hunters have reported finding earthworms in their stomachs. Also, a study of the scat of semi-wild Owston’s palm civets revealed a mostly invertebrate diet with some fruit and plant matter (Robertson et al. 2002). (Oldfield, 1928; Robertson, et al., 2002)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit

Predation

Predators of Owston’s palm civets are unknown, but other species in the family Viverridae in other parts of the world are predated upon mostly by larger mammalian or reptilian predators (Joshi et al. 1995). In Vietnam, Laos, and China this may include Asian golden cats (Catopuma temminckii), Siamese crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis), or tigers (Panthera tigris). (Joshi, et al., 1995)

Ecosystem Roles

Since so little is known about Owston’s palm civets, it is difficult to understand the role they play in their ecosystems. However, Owston’s palm civets are very closely related to common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), which act as a long-distance seed disperser in the areas in which the live. These animals, unlike many other seed dispersers, swallow seeds, meaning they get carried much further before being excreted. Their digestive retention time is 2.6 hours and the estimated mean dispersal distance is 216 m. Large-seed dispersal like this is extremely important for vegetative recovery in degraded forests (Nakashima et al. 2010). (Nakashima and Jumra, 2010)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

One of the threats to Owston’s palm civets comes from the monetary benefit of hunting them. Humans eat their meat and use their bones, penises, and large scent glands in traditional medicine throughout southeast Asia. Because they are ground-dwelling, Owston’s palm civets often get ensnared in meat traps (Gray et al. 2014). In addition to unintentional trapping, they seem to be in higher demand than other civet species because of their beautiful pelts, which are often sold as décor. For this purpose, hunters specifically target Owston’s palm civets (Robertson et al. 2002, Sivilay et al. 2011, Timmins et al. 2016). (Gray, et al., 2014; Robertson, et al., 2002; Sivilay, et al., 2011; Timmins, et al., 2016)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The import of all civet species was banned in the United States because they were determined to be a natural reservoir for a virus similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). This virus first transferred to humans in China in 2002 and killed 774 people in under 8 months (Wang et al. 2007). (Wang and Eaton, 2007)

Conservation Status

Owston’s palm civets are listed as endangered under the IUCN Red List and the China Red List, and they are marked as vulnerable in the Vietnam Redbook. They reside within a number of nationally protected areas (NPA) like the evergreen forest of Nam Et-Phou Loueyon on the Laos-Vietnam border, and the Nakai-Nam Theun NPA in Laos. In Vietnam this the exploitation of this species is regulated, but not prohibited. In Laos it is listed in a prohibitory category, but because hunting is still an important form of subsistence for ethnic minorities in many countries, they are still often trapped for food (Coudrat et al. 2014, Timmins et al. 2016). Habitat loss is another threat to Owston’s palm civets, but little is known about the exact impact of this threat (Johnson et al. 2009). (Coudrat, et al., 2014; Johnson, et al., 2009; Timmins, et al., 2016)

An international breeding program has been coordinated between populations in European zoos and in Vietnam, but population numbers are still very low (Timmins et al. 2016). In a 2002 zoo report, 31 individuals were said to reside in captivity, but no wild population estimate has ever been made (Robertson et al. 2002). (Robertson, et al., 2002; Timmins, et al., 2016)

Contributors

Carli Nelson (author), University of Washington, Laura Prugh (editor), University of Washington, Galen Burrell (editor).

Glossary

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

drug

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

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