Chrotogale owstoni 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Viverridae

Scientific Name: Chrotogale owstoni Thomas, 1912
Common Name(s):
English Owston's Civet, Owston's Banded Civet, Owston's Banded Palm Civet, Owston's Palm Civet
Hemigalus owstoni (Thomas, 1912)
Taxonomic Notes: Chrotogale owstoni appears to contain two distinct geographic clades (Veron et al. 2004) although they were not suggested to warrant recognition as subspecies. Some authors (e.g. Corbet and Hill 1992) refer this species to the genus Hemigalus, but recent investigations have validated its placement in the monospecific genus Chrotogale (e.g., Wilting and Fickel 2012).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2bcd+3bcd+4cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2015-03-03
Assessor(s): Timmins, R.J., Coudrat, C.N.Z., Duckworth, J.W., Gray, T.N.E., Robichaud, W., Willcox, D.H.A., Long, B. & Roberton, S.
Reviewer(s): Schipper, J.
Contributor(s): Wang, Y.-X., Nguyen, T., Rawson, B.M., Meek, J., Nguyen, V.T., Tran, Q.P. & Nguyen, T.T.A.
Owston's Civet is listed as Endangered A2bcd, A3bcd, A4cd because of an ongoing population decline, inferred to exceed 50% over the last three generations (taken as 15 years) and suspected to continue for the next three. This is inferred from over-exploitation, with habitat fragmentation exacerbating the speed at which the species is being extirpated. Hunting is a severe threat because the species is primarily ground-dwelling and so is exposed to the very high levels of snaring and other forms of ground-level trapping throughout its range. This assessment is made without any direct quantification of decline rate. Two largely sympatric ungulates of broadly similar generation lengths, Saola Pseudoryx nghetinhensis and Large-antlered Muntjac Muntiacus vuquangensis, are proposed as Critically Endangered under the same criteria for the same reasons. Owston's Civet has always been and remains more widespread than them, and unlike them there is still evidence of several high-density Owston's Civet populations. While this does not necessarily mean the civet's overall population decline rate is lower, the lower category for Owston's Civet is assigned based on its wider occurrence in montane forest (in which this civet is known to live, in some areas commonly, and up to 2,600 m) and karst (which is predicted to hold viable populations). These habitats, which contain some areas of very rugged and/or highland terrain into which industrial snaring has not yet widely spread, are apparently not occupied by the two ungulates. If market forces drive intensive snaring also into these habitats, then Critically Endangered would be the appropriate category for future decline rates of Owston's Civet given its apparent rapid extirpation across some heavily snared parts of Viet Nam.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Owston's Civet is known to occur across a wide latitudinal range of both eastern Lao PDR (Sivilay et al. 2011, Coudrat et al. 2014, Gray et al. 2014b) and Viet Nam (Roberton 2007, Dang and Le 2010), and in a small area of southernmost China, possibly only in Hekou, Luchun and Jinping counties of Yunnan province (Wang Ying-xiang 2003) but perhaps also in adjacent Guangxi province (Lau et al. 2010). It has not been found west of the Mekong river (Corbet and Hill 1992) and indeed occurrence in Lao PDR is restricted largely to the easternmost areas that have similarities in climate to Viet Nam. The range may also potentially extend into easternmost Cambodia: two individuals seen in the Phnom Tamao zoo (Phnom Penh) collection of stuffed mounts in the late 1990s were unlikely to have originated outside Cambodia (C.M. Poole pers. comm. to Dang and Le 2010). However, extensive surveys in Cambodia's eastern provinces have not found the species (e.g., Gray et al. 2014a, E.H.B. Pollard pers. comm. 2012). Perhaps the most likely area of Cambodia, eastern Virachey National Park, remains very little camera-trapped. Suitable methodology (camera-trapping and/or spotlighting) has been applied widely enough in the southern half of Lao PDR to be confident the species is entirely or largely restricted to the east in the south and latitudinal centre; capable searches have been less widespread in the northern highlands.

Records come from the range 100-2,600 m, but, particularly west of the Annamites, only a subset of this full range is likely to be occupied in any given area (see 'Habitats and ecology').
Countries occurrence:
Lao People's Democratic Republic; Viet Nam
Possibly extinct:
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):UnknownEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Continuing decline in number of locations:Yes
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:UnknownLower elevation limit (metres):100
Upper elevation limit (metres):2600
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The total population of Owston's Civet will always have been much smaller than that of most other mainland South-east Asian civets because it has such a small geographic range. There is insufficient baseline information to define the precise range and even the general abundance in the era before trade-driven hunting began to accelerate steeply in the 1980s with the increasingly wide deployment of cable-snares in long lines linked by brushwood drift fences. Therefore, its population trend needs to be inferred from trends in habitat and in hunting (types, distributions and intensities), based on a hypothesised geographic and ecological distribution, itself inferred from habitat (from which the known precisely located records come) and distributions of ecologically restricted co-occurring species.

Severe declines probably started in the early 1990s, Around this time, evidence suggests other ground-dwelling, now much-declined, Annamite-centred species such as Saola Pseudoryx nghetinhensis, Large-antlered Muntjac Muntiacus vuquangensis and Edwards’s Pheasant Lophura edwardsii were, by today’s standards, still common in accessible Viet Namese forests. Camera-trapping in the late 1990s in Pu Mat Nature Reserve and in Huong Son district (SFNC 2000, Timmins and Trinh 2001) suggested that the species was still relatively common in mid-elevation forests where hunting pressure was already relatively intense. The number of animals in trade in the 1990s (e.g., at Ban Lak-20 (= Ban Lak Xao) in Lao PDR; received by the Owston’s Civet Project at Cuc Phuong National Park, Viet Nam; and observed in trade near Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and as stuffed specimens along route 1, both Viet Nam) all suggest the species was frequent thereabouts, presumably in the mid-elevation forest where the bulk of snaring was then taking place. There is no pointer, when the difficulties of detecting this species by typical pre-camera-trap surveys are accounted for, to suggest that Owston’s Civet was not a common species throughout mid-elevation Vietnamese wet evergreen forest (see 'Habitats and ecology' section), prior to the advent of intensive snaring.

Within its range, it evidently reached, and locally still reaches, high densities within favoured habitat. Bourret (1944) considered it to be the most common civet between the Fansipan mountains and the Black river in northern Viet Nam. Two camera-trapping surveys in Viet Nam around the turn of the century, one in the Hoang Lien mountains in the north-west of the country and the other in Pu Mat Nature Reserve in the northern Annamites found this civet to be among the most commonly photographed small carnivores in these areas (SFNC 2000, S. Swan pers. comm. 2004). Pu Mat NR has not been resurveyed, but this assessment is still appropriate for the highland areas of Mu Cang Chai and Muong La, both in/near the Hoan Lien mountains, in 2013 camera-trapping (B.M. Rawson pers. comm. 2014). The same was found in 2012-2013 in Xe Sap National Protected Area, Lao PDR (Gray et al. 2014b) and during the preceding decade in parts of eastern Nakai-Nam Theun NPA (Coudrat et al. 2014). In some other areas that it has been found, it has been among the least recorded species by camera-trap, e.g. Quang Nam province, Viet Nam (Long and Minh 2006), western Nakai-Nam Theun NPA (Coudrat et al. 2014), and Nam Et-Phou Louey NPA in the northern highlands of Lao PDR (Johnson et al. 2009). The patterns of the other hunting-sensitive species recorded by these surveys suggest that Owston's Civet abundance is highly heterogeneous dependent upon habitat, not that the low encounter rates in these areas are solely a result of overhunting (although this might be responsible in part or whole for the low encounter rate in Quang Nam).

However, hunting is likely to be the explanation for the stark temporal pattern shown by the review of camera-trapping in Viet Nam by Willcox et al. (2014: Table SOM3). Of the five camera-trapping surveys operating in Viet Nam during 1998–2006, all found Owston’s  Civet; the four in 2006–2013 all did not. (Two additional sites surveyed in the latter period, Cat Tien NP and U Minh, also did not find Owston’s Civet but are excluded from the comparison as being outside the species's likely range.) Very recent (late 2013) camera-trapping in Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve (Kon Tum province, Viet Nam) and two northern highland sites, Mu Cang Chai and Muong La, found Owston's Civet to be one of most commonly photographed small carnivores (Nguyen T. pers. comm. 2014, B.M. Rawson pers. comm. 2014). These anomalies within the 2006-2013 time period, not available in time for the Willcox et al. (2014) review, are both in very mountainous areas consequently less economically appealing to market hunters. Higher hunting pressures, notably snaring intensities, typify most of the survey areas included in Willcox et al. (2014: Table SOM3). Excepting the results from Ngoc Linh NR, Mu Cang Chai and Muong La, the lack of Viet Namese records from 2006 onwards suggests a major recent decline in the species in sites across the country with large populations left only in forested steep highland massifs. This suspected decline is corroborated by the failure of over 15,000 camera-trap-nights of effort in wet evergreen forest (see 'Habitats and ecology' section) in the Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves, Viet Nam, since August 2012 to find the species (WWF pers. comm. to Gray et al. 2014b). Nor has it been found in another lowland area of wet evergreen forest, Khe Nuoc Truong in Quang Binh province, where extensive camera-trapping recorded many other small carnivore species (Le Trong Trai pers. comm. 2014). For none of these 2006-2013 Viet Nam camera-trap survey areas is there evidence of a pre-intensive-snaring large population of Owston' Civet. However, assessing them based on habitat and other Annamite wet evergreen forest species' status (see 'Habitats and ecology' section; R.J. Timmins [pers. comm. 2014] has surveyed in most of them and studied all on aerial imagery), Khe Nuoc Truong, Hoang Son, and non-limestone forests in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang area, are probably prime Owston’s Civet habitat; Hue and Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserves are very similar to Pu Mat NR; and Ke Go is hard to know, because few other sites are topographically similar, and the topography influences local climate. Even Crested Argus Rheinardia ocellata (among the least hunting-sensitive ground-dwelling wet evergreen forest species) has not been camera-trapped in the Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves; they are some of the most heavily hunted large forest blocks that R.J. Timmins (pers. comm. 2014) has ever been to.

A decline of such magnitude was not suspected during the last Red List assessment for this species, for 2008. At that stage, all camera-trap surveys within its range typically found the species, sometimes commonly. The high encounter rates in some areas suggests a high starting population and thus a long time until near extirpation (and the concomitant ability of generalised camera-trapping to note a paucity of records). Another factor weighed for the 2008 listing as Vulnerable was that one of the surveys camera-trapping the species commonly, in Hoang Lien Son of far northern Viet Nam, was amid highly degraded and fragmented forest which had been subjected to high levels of traditional hunting for decades (see Swan and O'Reilly 2004) and thus the species was resilient to hunting pressure. However, it now seems more likely that Owston's Civet differs in sensitivity to different styles of hunting (see 'Threats'). The current overall population trend is thus assessed to be steeply downwards. Probably, the main phase of decline in Viet Nam has already occurred, with most areas holding the species there now having only low numbers with large populations persisting only in the northern highlands and most rugged part of the Annamites, Lao PDR, retaining much larger areas of forest without road incursion and a much lower human population, still retains at least one large population, plausibly several (Gray et al. 2014b), but the national trend in 2015-2030 is likely to replicate that of Viet Nam in 1999-2014.

No information on the present population status in the Chinese part of the range was traced. Indeed, it is not clear that the species is still extant there.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:UnknownPopulation severely fragmented:No
Continuing decline in subpopulations:Yes
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:UnknownAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Owston’s Civet occurs in a variety of habitats, all within evergreen biomes, linked by the common feature of a non-harsh dry season. It is, or was, much more widely spread in Viet Nam than in Lao PDR, reflecting the much larger area of Viet Nam with significant humidity in the driest months (i.e., lacking a harsh dry season). The pattern of locality records in Lao PDR where the species is evidently naturally localised quite clearly shows that the species has a narrow habitat usage. Areas with a non-harsh dry season in Lao PDR are restricted (Timmins and Trinh 2001). The areas providing high encounter rates of Owston's Civet in Lao PDR are adjacent to low sections of the Annamite spine (the north-south mountain range forming much of the international border between Lao PDR and Viet Nam) that allow moisture-bearing winds from Viet Nam during Lao PDR's dry season, which in the rest of the country is harsh at lower and mid altitudes (Timmins and Trinh 2001, Duckworth et al. 2010, Sivilay et al. 2011, Coudrat et al. 2014). Many other evergreen forest survey areas across the country lack records, despite the use therein of methods suitable to find the species, at adequate intensities, and the finding of multiple hunting-sensitive ground-dwelling mammals, It is essentially absent from the predominant evergreen forest types of Lao PDR, lowland, mid-elevation and lower montane semi-evergreen (dry evergreen) and lower montane forests. This is based on spotlighting in several survey areas supporting these forest types in the early - mid 1990s (Duckworth 1997) and on camera-trapping in the 21st century in Phou Sithon, Nakai-Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA), Laving-Laveun NBCA, Nam Kading NBCA, Phou Chomvoy Provincial Protected Area and Xe Sap NBCA (Duckworth et al. 2010, Coudrat et al. 2014, Gray et al. 2014b, R. J. Timmins pers. comm. 2014); the hunting intensity in all of these at the time of camera-trapping was equivalent to Pu Mat before (sometimes well before) 1998, about when the species was still readily detected by camera-traps. It is evidently locally present in Lao PDR below 1,000 m where wet evergreen forest occurs, but the absence of records from Laving-Laveun NBCA, which holds various other wet evergreen forest species, suggests that Owston's Civet is particularly sensitive to climatic conditions. It also occurs in montane evergreen forest (over 1,000 m), but is probably equally restricted by climatic conditions in its geographic and altitudinal range. Montane areas with wet climates, such as various high peaks in eastern parts of Lao PDR, appear to support the species over a relatively wide range (e.g., Xe Sap NBCA; Gray et al. 2014b), whilst peaks further west (greater rain-shadowing during the winter) appear to support more localised populations (e.g. Nam Et-Phou Louey NBCA; Johnson et al. 2009). Wet evergreen forest is, or was, far more widespread in Viet Nam than in Lao PDR, but it is not universal. The strong evidence from Lao PDR for climatic sensitivity of Owston's Civet suggests that some Viet Namese evergreen forests will hold the species sparsely or not at all (those in a rain-shadow). 

In the Annamite wet evergreen forest of Lao PDR, Owston's Civet has been recorded as high as suitable survey has occurred (1,500 m; Gray et al. 2014b). The few records from Lao PDR's northern highlands, mostly imprecisely located (barring that in Johnson et al. 2009), are likely to come from higher altitudes where the colder temperatures ameliorate the low dry-season rainfall. Thus, in Lao PDR Owston's Civet is likely to occur mostly in hill and montane altitudes, although there are credible reports from as low as 550 m (Gray et al. 2014b), whereas in Viet Nam the species has a wide altitudinal range, right down to the plains and up to 2,600 m (Van Ban district, Lao Kay province, in 2002; S. Swan pers. comm. 2014). Recent camera-trap records at Mu Cang Chai and Muong La, in the northern highlands of Viet Nam, come from altitudes of 1,722-2,444 m a.s.l.; there was very little survey effort below 1,700 m (B.M. Rawson pers, comm. 2014).

Captive animals in both Viet Nam and the U.K. relish earthworms (J. Meek pers. comm. 2014, D.H.A. Willcox pers. comm. 2014) and the species's skull and dentition suggest an invertebrate diet (Thomas 1927). An earthworm-dominated diet would explain the tight linkage with year-round humidity, given that in the parts of Lao PDR with a harsh dry season earthworms are not accessible during that season. This remains purely speculative, especially given that the component of Owston's Civet range south of the northern highlands resembles that of various other species unlikely to depend directly on access to earthworms, e.g. Annamite Striped Rabbit Nesolagus timminsi and Saola Pseudoryx nghetinhensis.

Suitable forests, in Viet Nam at least, include some on limestone and some dominated by bamboo (Roberton 2007). There are indications from Lao PDR of occurrence in degraded and edge habitat such as banana gardens (King 2002), but these remain to be confirmed. The lack of records from deciduous forest surely reflects the genuine pattern of occurrence.

Owston's Civet has not been studied in the field, but camera-trapping indicates that it is nocturnal, largely solitary and presumably largely active at ground level (e.g., Coudrat et al. 2014), although there is at least one record of a wild animal 3 m up a tree (Dang and Le 2010). The species climbs well in captivity (D.H.A. Willcox pers. comm. 2014).
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):5
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Owston's Civet is taken for meat and traditional medicine (including its bones, scent gland, and penis) in all of its range countries; there is not suspected to be any targeted hunting of the species, but much hunting in its range is non-selective (e.g. snares) to supply the general wildlife meat market (Sivilay et al. 2011, B. Long pers. comm. 2006, S.I. Roberton pers. comm. 2006).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Lao PDR and Viet Nam, the two countries holding most of the geographic range of Owston's Civet, have among the highest levels of non-specific mammal hunting in the world. For many decades hunting with projectiles, dogs, and traps fabricated from local plant materials has been very high, for largely local use. From the late 1980s, rising throughout the 1990s, 2000s and into the 2010s, rapidly increasing affluence of Chinese and Viet Namese consumers and, to a lesser extent, those in Lao PDR has fuelled an explosive rise in urban demand for wildlife meat, including civets (e.g., Bell et al. 2004). In Viet Nam “the free market economy has resulted in feverish periods of trade in wild species nationwide, with negative impacts on biodiversity” (Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam 2004). In Lao PDR, the same situation has developed, largely for export rather than in-country consumption. This demand has resulted in levels of snaring probably unprecedented anywhere in the world, using durable materials (metal) linked by brushwood drift-fences. These are evidently extremely efficient in extirpating mobile ground-dwelling mammals of civet size (e.g., Coudrat et al. 2014); some areas of little-degraded forest now support negligible densities of ground-dwelling mammals of this size class and above (Willcox et al. 2014).

Although such trade-driven off-take of large mammals from protected areas and such wildlife trade is unambiguously illegal in both Lao PDR and Viet Nam, enforcement is uneven and the large profits to be made hamper effective resolution of the problem. In parts of Lao PDR, trade prices for wild meat are so high and wild stocks so depleted that severe dietary problems are evident among rural hill people (i.e., those without access rights to productive fisheries) (Krahn and Johnson 2007). There is no reason to expect these hunting levels to decline until the wildlife species affected have been hunted out; larger species such as big cats Panthera, wild cattle Bos and Sambar Rusa unicolor are already widely extirpated in Viet Nam and Lao PDR (R.J. Timmins pers. comm. 2014), yet hunting continues. Some Viet Namese areas camera-trapped and discussed by Willcox et al. (2014) were almost bereft of any ground-dwelling mammals or birds bigger than rats. This is the plausible end-point for most areas holding Owston's Civet.

By contrast, Owston's Civet seems to be fairly resilient to long-standing hunting methods and intensities, judging by the numbers that were and still are camera-trapped in in Viet Nam's northern highlands (Swan and O'Reilly 2004, S. Swan pers. comm. 2004, B.M. Rawson pers. comm. 2014). In contrast to Owston's Civet, many other hunting-sensitive species in these areas were or are already extirpated or reduced to numbers so low as to evade detection. This area has no or negligible trade-driven operation of metal snares in long lines; this lack is typical of Hmong-dominated northern highland areas (J. Tordoff pers. comm. 2014). Most hunting for mammals of civet-size and over in these areas is active, with projectiles and with dogs, rather than by passive trapping; and it is by day (B. Long pers comm. 2014). The nocturnal, solitary, generally inconspicuous habits of Owston's Civet evidently facilitate its survival in such areas; its dens must be in areas not readily found by dogs.

Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation have affected large areas of Owston’s Civet range (Schreiber et al. 1989), particularly in Viet Nam and increasingly in Lao PDR. Habitat fragmentation magnifies the impact of hunting on populations, particularly when roads are built into areas of, until then, limited accessibility. Vehicle access makes the harvest of a whole host of mid-price marketable materials such as civet meat economically viable where previously the labour investment of carrying heavy loads long distances restrained off-take in those areas to high-value products and what was required for living off the land during the process. An ongoing massive expansion of the road system in Lao PDR, in part related to large infrastructure construction such as dams and mines (e.g., Sivilay et al. 2011, W.G. Robichaud pers. comm. 2014), is likely to bring most of the Lao areas holding Owston's Civet within close-enough range of vehicle access that general wildlife meat extraction is economically feasible. This is already the case for most of the Viet Namese areas.

The exceptions to this grim assessment include karst massifs (into which road building is rarely economically viable), montane areas inhabited by people who disdain snaring, and any protected areas which develop effective enough management regimes before the species is extirpated. While there are Owston's Civet records form karst, densities within such landscapes are unknown, as is the degree to which the species depends upon tall forests there (themselves rather patchy in occurrence in karst landscapes). The extent to which industrial snaring will spread into hill areas already largely depleted of animals larger than civets (by day-time shooting and hunting with dogs), notably large areas of the northern highlands, is unclear; if some such areas do not start to deploy it (for various reasons, such as ongoing remoteness from road networks, or the cultural predispositions of the inhabitants), these areas will also be important havens to Owston's Civet.

The adaptability of Owston's Civet to non-hunted degraded and fragmented areas is unknown, but so long as snaring remains uncontrolled, is moot.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Owston's Civet is listed as Endangered on the China Red List and as Vulnerable in the Viet Nam Red Book (MOSTE 2000). It is protected in Yunnan province, but not in Guangxi (GMA Small Carnivore Workshop 2006). In Viet Nam the species is listed in group IIB meaning exploitation is regulated but not prohibited (Decree 32/2006/ND-CP). In Lao PDR, the species is listed in group I (Prohibition category) of the hunting regulations (Prime Minister Decree 81, 2008; Wildlife hunting regulation).

An international breeding programme, coordinated from Viet Nam, has been established with populations in Europe and Viet Nam. However numbers are still too low for long-term viability (J. Meek pers. comm. 2014).

Owston's Civet has been recorded in many protected areas in Viet Nam and several in Lao PDR (Roberton 2007, Sivilay et al. 2011, Coudrat et al. 2014, Gray et al. 2014b) but in none of these is trade-driven snaring yet under effective control. They have, however, somewhat to greatly slowed the expansion of the road system, and thus maintained areas in which it is only marginally economically viable to harvest wildlife meat in bulk; and they have reduced the chance of landscape-level habitat transformation projects such as concession plantations.

Citation: Timmins, R.J., Coudrat, C.N.Z., Duckworth, J.W., Gray, T.N.E., Robichaud, W., Willcox, D.H.A., Long, B. & Roberton, S. 2016. Chrotogale owstoni. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T4806A45196929. . Downloaded on 18 September 2018.
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