Paradoxurus zeylonensisgolden palm civet

Geographic Range

Golden palm civets (Paradoxurus zeylonensis) are endemic to Sri Lanka, an island nation spanning almost 66,000 km^2 (Veron et al. 2014). Their closest relatives, brown palm civets (Paradoxurus jerdoni) live in India. Golden palm civets are sympatric with common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), a species that is widespread across Southeast Asia (Groves et al. 2008). (Groves, et al., 2009; Joshi, et al., 1995)


Golden palm civets live in various climatic zones in Sri Lanka — wet zones, dry zones, and cloud forests or intermediate zones (Groves et al. 2009). The Sri Lankan dry zone extends across most of the island, starting from the north to the southeast and is characterized by shrub and grasslands. The north and south coasts also include smaller areas of monsoon scrub jungles or arid zone forests. The dry zone receives about 1,000 to 1,700 mm of rain per year (Roberts et al. 2018). The wet zone is composed of the central highlands and southwest coastal plains. This zone gets 2,201 to 4,849 mm of rain per year and is comprised of closed-canopy tropical forests and interspersed grasslands (Roberts et al. 2018). The intermediate zone forms a band between the wet and dry zones, along the eastern slopes of the mountains (Karunaweera et al. 2014). This zone is home to intermediate rain or semi-evergreen forests and receives 1,701 to 2,200 mm of rain yearly (Roberts et al. 2018). There are several areas of mangrove patches on the shores of the island as well, however golden palm civets predominantly reside in forests, as they are mostly arboreal (Perara 1975 and Groves et al. 2018). (Groves, et al., 2009; Karunaweera, et al., 2014; Perera, 1975; Roberts, et al., 2018)

Physical Description

Golden palm civets generally have two morphs based on pelage coloration; they are either golden brown or dark brown. Golden palm civets are small-bodied mammals, weighing between 1.4 and 3.2 kg, and measuring about 50 cm from their noses to the bases of the tails. Their tails are 40 cm long, meaning they measure roughly 90 cm from their noses to the tips of their tails. Their coat length varies between 3 and 4 cm (Pocock 1939). Juvenile and immature golden palm civets are usually grey to grey-brown in coloration. Golden palm civets are distinct from common palm civets in that they lack black, grey, or white facial markings, as well as tail rings and body markings. There are also some potential differences in cranial anatomy based on habitat. Males have bacula, or penis bones, and females have two or three pairs of abdominal mammae (Nowak 1999). (Nowak and Walker, 1999; Pocock, 1939)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    1.4 to 3.2 kg
    3.08 to 7.05 lb
  • Range length
    90 (high) cm
    35.43 (high) in


Not much is known about the mating system of golden palm civets. Other solitary, arboreal species within the family Viverridae have been observed as breeding pairs that utilize hollow tree branches to copulate and raise their young (Nowak 1999). It is not known whether breeding pairs remain together or change partners during each breeding season. (Nowak and Walker, 1999)

There have been no detailed accounts of reproductive behavior in golden palm civets. However, a study on the mating behavior of common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) may shed insight into golden palm civet reproduction. Borah and Deka (2011) describe a single observation up in the trees, which took place in the daytime, despite the nocturnal nature of civets. This copulation event lasted about 5 minutes, during which the male mounted the female 4 to 5 times. After mating, the pair moved around the branches playfully for a few minutes before settling down and resting (Borah and Deka 2011). (Deka and Borah, 2011)

  • Breeding interval
    Once a year or seasonal (unknown)
  • Breeding season
    Birth occurs around October or November
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 3
  • Range gestation period
    72 to 85 days
  • Range weaning age
    52 to 175 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years

Early observations of golden palm civets from the 1930s, describe them as having small litter sizes of 2 to 3 young, appearing around October and November (Pocock 1939). Members of the family Viverridae exhibit different reproductive traits, with gestation periods ranging from 72 to 85 days, and weaning occurring 52 to 175 days after birth (Bekoff et al. 1984). Some species reproduce once a year, while others have multiple mating seasons. Young viverrids are born blind but furred, and require protection and care from their parents at least until their eyes open (Mills et al. 2004). The extent and division of parental investment between females and males is unknown. Most civet species reach sexual maturity after 1 to 2 years (Nowak 1999). (Bekoff, et al., 1984; Mills, et al., 2004; Nowak and Walker, 1999; Pocock, 1939)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female


According to the IUCN red list, golden palm civets live up to 9 years (Duckworth et al. 2016). On average, members of the family Viverridae have a lifespan of 5 to 15 years (Nowak 1999). (Duckworth, et al., 2016; Nowak and Walker, 1999)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    9 (high) years


Golden palm civets are small, seemingly elusive, nocturnal mammals. They are predominantly arboreal, meaning they spend their lives up in the trees. They live solitary lives and do not form social groups (Veron et al. 2014). They predominantly rely on scent marking and olfactory cues to communicate (Rozhnov and Rozhnov 2000). (Rozhnov and Rozhnov, 2003; Veron, et al., 2014)

  • Range territory size
    0.12 to 0.14 km^2

Home Range

Little is known about the extent of individual golden palm civet home ranges. A study in the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal (a roughly 1,000 km^2 study site) found that common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermphroditus) have a total home range of about 14.1 +/- 2.3 hectares, and a resting home range of about 6.6 +/- 1.2 hectares. In addition, males seem to have larger ranges for both categories than females (Joshi et al. 1995).

Communication and Perception

Golden palm civets are rarely encountered; therefore, little is known about species specific communication methods. In general, civets have anal scent glands that secrete fluids for several reasons. Common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) have been documented utilizing these scents in combination with urine and feces as self-defense and as markers of individual identities (Nowak 1999 and Rozhnov 2000). They display several behaviors of scent marking, including the following: dragging their perineal (scent) glands on the ground or on trees; rubbing their ears and necks against the ground or other objects; wiping the soles of their feet on substrate; urinating; defecating; and dragging their anuses against the ground immediately after defecating. All of these behaviors leave an individual-specific scent in the environment. The most frequent scent markings are (1) secretion, (2) urine, and (3) feces (Rozhnov 2000). Observations show that males generally scent mark more frequently than females, which is potentially tied to increased male territoriality. In addition, the two sexes utilize marking methods somewhat differently: females employ urine and anal dragging more than males, and males use heel/sole wiping more than females (Rozhnov 2000). Scent-based communication is connected to strong olfactory perception. (Nowak and Walker, 1999; Rozhnov and Rozhnov, 2003)

Food Habits

All species in the family Paradoxurus are largely frugivorous, eating fruits such as plantains, pineapples, guava, mango. However, if resources are limited, they will also eat small vertebrates and invertebrates , such as small mammals, birds, small reptiles, frogs, moths and other insects (Veron et al. 2014, Nakashima et al. 2013, and Pocock 1939). (Nakashima, et al., 2013; Pocock, 1939; Veron, et al., 2014)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


There is no predation information available for golden palm civets. Chutipong et al. (2017) found that common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), a closely related sympatric species, were preyed upon by large cats - especially leopards (Panthera pardus) — and pythons (family Pythonidae). These predators are excellent at hunting in the trees, making smaller arboreal mammals such as palm civets ideal targets (Chutipong et al. 2017). (Chutipond, et al., 2017)

Ecosystem Roles

Golden palm civets are important seed dispersers within their ecosystems (Veron et al. 2014). A study with common palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) demonstrated their importance for this ecosystem service. These patterns can probably be applied to golden palm civets as well, given their ecological overlap and phylogenetic relatedness. As frugivores, both civet species naturally spread and aid the germination of seeds. With increasing forest fragmentation and increasing distance between remaining patches, common palm civets have been proven to be an important part of connecting patches and dispersing seeds between fragments (Nakashima and Sukor 2010). (Nakashima and Sukor, 2010; Veron, et al., 2014)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The presence of rabies within golden palm civets (see "Economic Importance to Humans: Negative" section) provides new insight into the spread and control of rabies in Sri Lanka. This gives scientists an opportunity to study sylvatic (wildlife) rabies and better understand how the virus is transmitted within animal communities in the area (Matsumoto et al. 2011). Findings tied to rabies can help spur biomedical and medicinal advancements to help eradicate the threat of rabies from both animal and human populations in Sri Lanka. (Matsumoto, et al., 2011)

Species in the subfamily of Paradoxurinae are a great tool for studying general Asian biogeography. Many are widespread, but some, such as golden palm civets, are endemic so certain regions. This gives insight into intraspecific variation (Veron et al. 2014). (Veron, et al., 2014)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Golden palm civets were identified as carriers of rabies in Sri Lanka in November 2009. A rabid individual was caught and killed to prevent disease transmission, as well as to provide a specimen for scientific study. It is not clear whether golden palm civets are a reservoir of a rabies variant or are infected as a result of spillover from another wildlife species. Nonetheless, they add another carrier of the detrimental virus into the Sri Lankan environment and human population (Matsumoto et al. 2011). (Matsumoto, et al., 2011)

Conservation Status

Golden palm civets are considered a species of "Least Concern" according to the IUCN Red List conservation assessment conducted in April 2015 (Duckworth et al. 2016). A conflicting conservation status was reported by Matsumoto et al. in 2011 which stated that palm civets are endangered in Sri Lanka due to hunting, disease, and habitat loss. Another study by Ratnayeke and Manen in 2012 stated that golden palm civets were vulnerable, with a declining population trend. It is not clear whether population sizes have recovered since 2011, or if one of the reports is erroneous. Since civets do relatively well in human-modified areas, it is possible that their population is recovering through the exploitation of this niche (Nakashima and Sukor 2010). (Duckworth, et al., 2016; Matsumoto, et al., 2011; Nakashima and Sukor, 2010; Ratnayeke and Van Manen, 2012)

Other Comments

A study in 2008 by Groves et al. proposed that the species definition Paradoxurus zeylonensis actually contains two or three cryptic species within that classification. They relied on pelage and skull morphologies to distinguish these potentially new species. Publication following the re-classification have referred to the new species as golden wet-zone palm civets (P. aureus), golden dry-zone palm civets (P. stenocephalus), and Sri Lankan brown palm civets (P. montanus). In 2014, however, the team of Veron and colleague used genetic information to prove that P. zeylonensis is only one species. They reaffirmed the phylogenetic relationships within civets (subfamily Paradoxurus), with Paradoxurus zeylonensis and Paradoxurus jerdoni as sister lineages, and Paradoxurus hermaphroditus as the next closest clade. (Groves, et al., 2009; Veron, et al., 2014)


Andi Gero (author), University of Washington, Laura Prugh (editor), University of Washington, Galen Burrell (editor), Special Projects.



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.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.

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).

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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


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


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


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


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).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


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.


active during the night


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

World Map


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


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

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


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


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