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Viverra civettina 

Scope: Global
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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Viverridae

Scientific Name: Viverra civettina
Species Authority: Blyth, 1862
Common Name(s):
English Malabar Civet, Malabar Large-spotted Civet
Synonym(s):
Viverra megaspila ssp. civettina Blyth, 1862
Taxonomic Notes: Malabar Civet was considered a subspecies of Large-spotted Civet V. megaspila by Ellerman and Morrison-Scott (1951). Most standard sources, e.g. Pocock (1939), Corbet and Hill (1992) considered it a separate species, but purported morphological differences are slight and its taxonomy therefore needs re-evaluation. It is even possible that it is not a taxon at all, but a result of transport of Large-spotted Civet (Nandini and Mudappa 2010). For the present assessment, the precautionary stance is taken of assuming that Malabar Civet is a valid taxon, and that it is distinct at the species level.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) C2a(i) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2015-03-03
Assessor(s): Mudappa, D., Helgen, K. & Nandini, R.
Reviewer(s): Schipper, J. & Duckworth, J.W.
Contributor(s): Jennings, A. & Veron, G.
Justification:
This species is listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) because there are no recent reliable records of wild individuals and none are known in captivity. Various surveys during 1990-2014 in potentially suitable habitats across its purported distribution range have generated no records, despite using techniques that reliably find related species when they are present (notably, camera-trapping). This lack of records despite these surveys indicates that its population, if extant at all, is likely to number fewer than 250 mature individuals, with no subpopulation greater than 50 individuals. A continuing decline is inferred from the lack of any recent records (Nandini and Mudappa 2010). Its distribution and ecology are effectively unknown, because there are no reliable documented records, ever, of the species in the wild (Nandini and Mudappa 2010). The species is known only from eight specimens collected over a century ago and four more recently, with the last in 1989 (Nandini and Mudappa 2010).
Date last seen: none certain
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Malabar Civet is believed to be endemic to the Western Ghats of southern India. All records lack precise locality (historical specimens all came from zoo animals with no information on original source) and most have little or no information on origin. Taken together they suggest a distribution in the lowlands from Kanyakumari in the extreme south north to Wayanad, Coorg, and Honnavar in Karnataka (Pocock 1933, 1939, Corbet and Hill 1992, Nandini and Mudappa 2010). There are only two reports of its occurrence in the higher elevations (over 600 m) of the Western Ghats, in the High Wavy Mountains (Hutton 1949) and at Kudremukh (Karanth 1986). The former is very likely to be in error and the latter was based on a single-observer sight-record left unidentified for some years (Nandini and Mudappa 2010). By the late 1960s, the species was thought to be near extinction. In the decades until the late 1980s, there were only two possible records, from Kudremukh in Karnataka (Karanth 1986) and from Tiruvella in Kerala (Kurup 1989); both lack objectively verifiable evidence. Rai and Kumar (1993) reported possible occurrence in the state of Karnataka based on the sighting by Karanth (1986) and unsubstantiated interviews with local hunters. In the late 1980s, skins of recently killed Malabar Civets were obtained in Elayur, in the lowland Western Ghats, in Malappuram district, Kerala (Kurup 1989) and near Nilambur, northern Kerala (Ahsraf et al. 1993), although these seem subsequently to have been lost.
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):600
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The population status is unknown but the lack of any even possible record since the advent of widespread camera-trapping suggests that very few animals, at most, persist. Three recent attempts to find the species failed (Jayson et al. 2007, Rao et al. 2007, Ashraf et al. 2009).

This species was formerly believed to be very common in the districts of Malabar and Travancore in southwest India, based on Jerdon (1874). However, Nandini and Mudappa (2010) concluded that Jerdon’s statements were a case of misidentification of the more common (even now) Small Indian Civet, supporting Pocock’s (1933) doubts about Jerdon’s report. But by the late 1960s it was thought to be near extinction. No sighting was claimed until 1987; then, and subsequently, there have been no confirmed records of wild or captive animals: only equivocal sightings (without any supporting evidence to confirm the species identification) and dead animals plausibly from captivity (Nandini and Mudappa 2010).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:249Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:Yes
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:Unknown

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:There is no reliable information about Malabar Civet's habitat use or other aspects of its ecology. The several descriptions of habitat use are speculative or based in whole or part on confusion with other species. It seems that it once inhabited lowland forests, lowland swamp and riparian forests in the coastal plain districts of the Western Ghats. Village reports suggested occurrence in thickets in cashew plantations and in highly degraded lowland forests in northern Kerala (Ashraf et al. 1993). It could possibly occur in lowland riparian forests in the coastal plain districts (Ashraf et al. 1993). Based on the natural history of congeners, the species is probably nocturnal, ground-dwelling and readily camera-trapped when present.

Natural forests have completely disappeared from the coastal Western Ghats. Present vegetation is secondary in origin (Champion and Seth 1968), and is mostly plantations (Ashraf et al. 1993). Of these, cashew plantations are the least disturbed, because they are not weeded, providing a dense understorey of shrubs and grasses for this ground-living species to take refuge in (Ashraf et al. 1993). The pelt records from 1980-1990 were in the region of river valleys, suggesting a possible association with shallow water courses (Ashraf et al, 1993). The closely related Large-spotted Civet is strongly associated with the forested level lowlands (e.g., Chutipong et al. 2014); whether this is also true of Malabar Civet, which occurs within a rather different small carnivore community (notably, no other species of Viverra overlaps with it) is unknown.
Systems:Terrestrial
Generation Length (years):5.88
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The use of civet-musk is said to have been widespread within this species's range during 1965-1970 (Ashraf et al. 1993). In the past, this species might have been used to collect civet oil, although there are no records to authenticate this claim. Small Indian Civet is still illegally ‘farmed’ and kept in captivity to extract civet, and any remaining Malabar Civets are likely to be at risk for the same reason.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Assuming habitat use similar to that of Large-spotted Civet, Malabar Civet is likely to have undergone a massive decline a century ago because of extensive conversion of forest to agriculture. Coastal plain forest was never extensive in its presumed range because the Western Ghats hill range run quite close to the coast along its length. Natural forests have completely disappeared from the coastal Western Ghats (Champion and Seth 1968). Land-use and habitat changes have not been too drastic in the last century within the assumed distribution range of the Malabar Civet. The records late in this period, if they were of wild animals, therefore suggest an ability to persist in today's habitat matrix, specifically in deforested areas and/or forest above the plains. In either case, many areas of potentially suitable habitat persist. Thus, habitat factors alone are unlikely to have been an unlikely driver of of its present extreme rarity. There may be significant loss of natural and semi-natural habitat over the next decade with many hydro-power projects being proposed in the region. Cashew plantations, which might hold most of the surviving populations of this species, are threatened by large-scale clearance (Ashraf et al. 1993). 

The use of civet-musk is said to have been widespread within this species's range during 1965-1970 (Ashraf et al. 1993). In the past, this species might have been used to collect civet oil, although there are no records to authenticate this claim. Small Indian Civet is still illegally ‘farmed’ and kept in captivity to extract civet, and any remaining Malabar Civets are likely to be at risk for the same reason. 

Villagers report retaliatory killings of civets, taken by the interviewers to include Malabar Civet, for raiding poultry – although there is no hard evidence this species is killed for this reason. Once again it might be a case of mistaken identity between Malabar Civet and Small Indian Civet or even Common Palm Civet. The most recent skins apparently came from outside protected areas, suggesting that hunting is likely to remain a threat to this already rare species (Ashraf et al 1993). There are a few protected areas in the lowland of Kerala, but whether the species inhabits them is unknown. This species is not selectively hunted, but 10 of 22 reports of animals assessed by Ashraf et al. (1990) to relate to this species and made during 1950 to 1990 were caught by dogs; there is no evidence that these reports actually relate even in part to Malabar Civet. Whatever the proportion of report of retaliatory killing and hunting that truly relate to Malabar Civet, that these practices occur in the species's presumed range means that they are likely to threaten any remaining Malabar Civets.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Malabar Civet is listed in Schedule I, part I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and on CITES Appendix III (India). This species is not known to occur in any protected area and the declaration of large new protected areas in its range is unlikely because of the dense human populations (Ashraf et al. 1993). Ashraf et al. (1993) recommended the following conservation actions for this species: captive breeding (with the possibility of reintroduction if suitable undisturbed areas are identified), field surveys (to investigate whether this species occurs in protected areas) and ecological studies (to determine the threats to this species). An urgent conservation action plan is needed. Given that recently it has been not possible to find the species at all, the option of captive breeding is not currently practical. Reintroduction, assuming that some environmental threats have dissipated the populations, it would need considerable amount of work to nullify those threats having firstly established what they are. Field survey should be continued, although many in the last decade have not yielded any positive results (Jayson et al. 2007, Rao et al. 2007, Ashraf et al. 2009). As noted by Nandini and Mudappa (2010) in a detailed review of the knowledge of the Malabar Civet, none of the historical specimens have reliable provenance; and even for the more recent ones it is fairly vague: not one has a precise wild locality of origin. It therefore is imperative to assess the status of the specimens in various museums and collections using advanced techniques of molecular genetics. This should consider whether the species is in fact a valid taxon native to India, or an incidental result of the wide trans-shipment of various civet species that occurred around the Indian Ocean counties for many centuries.

Citation: Mudappa, D., Helgen, K. & Nandini, R. 2016. Viverra civettina. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T23036A45202281. . Downloaded on 30 August 2016.
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