Owston’s civet (Chrotogale owstoni)

Also known as: Owston’s banded palm civet, Owston’s palm civet
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyViverridae
GenusChrotogale (1)
SizeHead-body length: 56 – 72 cm (2)
Tail length: 35 – 47 cm (2)
Weight2 – 3.5 kg (3) (4)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

Owston’s civet has an elongate body, neck and tail, small head and long, tapering, whiskered snout (5). The coat is tawny buff-grey with a contrasting pattern of black or brown longitudinal stripes on the head, neck and shoulders, transverse black or brown bands on the back and tail, and scattered black spots on the sides and limbs (2) (5) (6). Owston’s civets are easily identified by four dark dorsal bands, and the last two thirds of the tail are completely black (2). The civet’s underside is pale creamy white and in males this is suffused with orange from the chest to the groin. In females, the orange coloration occurs mainly around their genitalia. (2) (7).

Known from northern and central Vietnam, northern Laos, and southern China’s southern Yunnan and southwest Guangxi provinces (2) (5).

Owston’s civet prefers densely vegetated habitats near lowland water sources, in both primary and secondary broadleafed, evergreen forest (5) (6). Although this species is thought to be largely terrestrial (5), they are also known to search for food, rest and even sleep in trees (7).

Very little is known about the biology and behaviour of this species in the wild, with most information coming from captive individuals (6). This nocturnal hunter is believed to be a solitary species that scent-marks its territory. Dens are constructed under large tree trunks, in caves and in dense brush, or may be located high in the canopy in tree hollows or on sheltered branches (7). The Owston’s civet leaves its den around dusk to feed on earthworms, which appear to form the bulk of the natural diet (5), as well as small vertebrates, invertebrates, including fish, frogs and insects and fruit (3) (4). Prey is predominantly found on the ground, where this animal’s long snout is used to unearth its meal (5).

All information on the reproduction of Owston’s civet is derived from captive specimens. In captivity, mating usually occurs from January to March, although it may last until April or May (3) (4). After a 75 to 87 day gestation period, a litter of one to three young are born, and females can produce one litter a year (3) (4).

The exact conservation status of Owston’s civet is unknown, as little research has been conducted on the species in the wild (8). However, this civet is believed to be under serious threat due to its restricted range, habitat destruction, and over-hunting for its meat and body parts to be used in traditional medicine (5) (8) (9). Owston’s civet is highly vulnerable to snare trapping, which is widespread across its range, due to its ground-dwelling nature (9). Civet meat is eaten and sold to restaurants, while body parts (including its bones, penis, scent gland and gall bladder) are used for traditional medicine and the beautiful pelts are sold to taxidermists or kept as trophies (10).

Owston’s civet occurs in several protected areas in China, including the Dawei Mountain National Reserve, Jinping Divide National Reserve and Huanlian Mountain National Reserve (5), and ten protected areas in Vietnam, including Cuc Phuong National Park (3) (4). When five infants were taken into the care of Cuc Phuong National Park in 1995, the Owston’s Palm Civet Programme was established to research the ecology and behaviour of the species before releasing them back into the park, where they would be monitored (9). After further research revealed that considerable illegal hunting continued in the National Park, increasing the risk to released animals, a captive breeding programme was initiated, which has been successfully producing and raising young most years since 1997 (9). In December 2004, the first six Owston’s civets were sent to European zoos under a Breeding Loan Programme, in order to broaden and strengthen captive breeding of this species (8). The Owston’s Palm Civet Programme later developed a more multifaceted approach to the conservation of this and other small carnivores in Vietnam. This included educational programmes, capacity building for forest rangers and zoo keepers, rescue, rehabilitation and development of placement options for small carnivores, captive research and field research (8). The programme has also taken in a number of civets seized by forest protection rangers from illegal wildlife traders (10). In 2005, this programme became the Small Carnivore Conservation Program (SCP) and from 2008 has become the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (3) (4).

For more information on Owston’s civet see:

Authenticated (11/03/08) by Dr. Géraldine Veron, Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France; Dr. Scott Roberton, Wildlife Conservation Society, Vietnam Wildlife Trade Program Coordinator and Jill Rischbieth, Communications Advisor, Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program, Vietnam.

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Veron, G. (2007) Pers. comm.
  3. Roberton, S. (2008) Pers. comm.
  4. Rischbeith, J. (2008) Pers. comm.
  5. Animal Diversity Web (January, 2007)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Chrotogale_owstoni.html
  6. Lioncrusher’s Domain (January, 2007)
    http://www.lioncrusher.com/animal.asp?animal=96
  7. Roberton, S., Rosenthal, S. and Muir, S. (2003) Management Guidelines for Owston’s Civet, Chrotologale owstoni. Owston’s Civet Conservation Program, UK and Vietnam.
  8. World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (January, 2007)
    http://www.waza.org/conservation/projects/projects.php?id=57
  9. The Owston’s Palm Civet Conservation Program (September, 2001)
    http://carnivoreconservation.portland.co.uk/pdf/owstons%20program%20summary.pdf
  10. Viet Nam News: Viet Nam to protect, breed endangered civet (January, 2007)
    http://vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn/2004-12/29/Columns/Environment.htm