Civet roadkill recovery – small actions can save the lives of wildlife

Two days before Christmas 2014, I came into office expecting an uneventful day. Not long after I reached campus, I received a notification from Nurliyana Omar, an Otterman Holt graduate who previously conducted a research on the fishtail palm (Caryota mitis). Liyana reported a common palm civet roadkill carcass along Clementi Road, at the NUS Arts Faculty entrance on the first left lane.

This was the third civet roadkill reported to us in the month of December.

Once a roadkill is reported, it is always a race against time and traffic to recover an intact carcass. We could not retrieve the first civet roadkill at Goodwood Hill, reported to us by Dr Darren Yeo, as by the time Tze Kwan arrived at the scene, the civet had already been crushed by multiple vehicles. Instead, tissue and hair samples were collected and deposited in the cryo collection in the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Therefore when I received the notification from Liyana, I quickly gathered the necessary equipment for carcass recovery and headed over to the Arts Faculty via the ridge. Even before I had a visual of the body, I could smell a whiff of pandan-like musk at the traffic junction. I looked across and saw a long slender black tail at the edge of the road metal railing. My heart sank. It was a common palm civet.

    The civet carcass was moved from the road to the side using wet tissues.
Someone moved the common palm civet carcass from the road to the side using wet tissues.

I took photos of the carcass and realized that the civet had sustained many injuries due to the impact from the vehicle. The body was distorted and there was blood on its face and hind leg. After taking the photos, I put on gloves and gingerly placed the civet into a bag to carry back to Science Faculty. As I carried it back to the ridge, I could not help but feel the weight of this usually elusive nocturnal animal. It was alive and well just a couple of hours ago.

Many times I would think of how we can help these last wild urban carnivores and many other wildlife that live in coexistence with human in Singapore’s urban landscape. It could be a small action such as driving a little slower, slowing down our pace of life to appreciate nature or even sharing these wonders with our friends and family. This can make all the difference between life and death for an animal. Every person can be the catalyst for change. As 2014 draws to a close, I hope that each of us can do our part and make a difference for wildlife in Singapore.

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All about the common palm civet in art!

We cannot wait to share with you this lovely hand drawn poster of a common palm civet by Maria Vladimirova! With an aim to raise awareness of various animal species among her Russian audience, she has been creating many other animal artworks which she shares on her website and Instagram.

Thanks to Instagram’s recommendations that we came across Maria’s fossa drawing. The fossa drawing was part of her efforts to draw one new animal per day in a #365challenge. We quickly took this opportunity to contact Maria and ask if it was possible to help draw a poster for the common palm civet. We were nervously waiting for her response and she quickly agreed. Within the span of two days, Maria completed the artwork!

Here are some of the interesting information snippets about the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). Civets have managed to survive urbanisation and with enough vegetation, they can also be found in urban areas.

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Do you know what the civets eat? Yes, the civet is an omnivorous animal and it feeds largely on fruits.

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Lastly, one of the several threats to the civets in Southeast Asia is the kopi luwak trade. In some farms, civets are caught from the wild, fed only coffee berries and battery farmed to produce the expensive civet coffee. You can read about more about the threat of kopi luwak to civets at the Project LUWAK Singapore.

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Stitching all these individual information together into a civet poster, here is the final product!

25 common palm civet
This poster can also be viewed on Maria’s Instagram (http://i.instagram.com/p/qFhZ6MKHu9/).

Thank you Maria and her partner for doing up this artwork in a short period of time! We really appreciate your effort to help raise awareness for the common palm civet.

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Did you see a civet inside the Science Centre?

Does the name Alfred Russel Wallace sound familiar? Heard of this name mentioned in your class? The Island Adventurer, a one year exhibition at Science Centre Singapore is dedicated to Wallace’s adventure in expeditions and field studies.

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The Island Adventurer – Alfred Russel Wallace exhibition at Science Centre, Singapore

As an accompaniment to this exhibition, the Science Centre staff has designed a Gallery Trail booklet for secondary school students. We are very glad to know that the booklet introduces our local wildlife such as the common palm civet, Sunda pangolin and oriental whip snake.

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Besides highlighting the common palm civet as part of our local wildlife, the team also managed to include a short fact on Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) which is sold in Singapore and in our neighbouring countries.  Find out more about Kopi Luwak and the cruelty behind the trade here: Project LUWAK Singapore.

All of these animals are part of our precious local natural heritage. In order to protect this precious heritage, we can all do our part by raising awareness for wildlife in Singapore so that more people have a better understanding and appreciation to co-exist with them.

Special thanks to Xu Wanwei and Joanna Yeo who helped to design this booklet.

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A sneak peek into the life of a civet through camera trapping!

In recent years, camera traps have become the must-have equipment for any wildlife research.

The camera trap is a camera encased in a box which can be configured to capture a photo when triggered by the body heat or movement of an animal. This research technique has helped to shed light on many previously unknown secretive inhabitants of the forest. The photos have allowed researchers to detect presence, count abundance and also observe the behaviour of typically shy wildlife or animals that are located in remote areas. Similarly, for a nocturnal and elusive animal like the common palm civet, the camera trap technology has allowed us to have a sneak preview of the life of a common palm civet in Singapore.

Common palm civet in Singapore
Common palm civet in Singapore

Currently, there are many conservation programmes that utilise camera traps in their studies.  It is always exciting to retrieve and review the data from a camera trap because you will never know what surprises are stored within the tiny SD card.

We are especially glad that various species of civets have been occasionally photographed in camera traps around Asia. The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Programme based in Vietnam, has kindly shared with us three photos of small Indian civet and common palm civets captured by their camera traps.

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Small Indian civet
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Common palm civet
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Close-up of a common palm civet

Another programme that has captured exciting civet photos is the Wildlife Conservation Society – India. They have managed to get a photo of the Brown palm civet (Paradoxurus jerdoni), a rare Western Ghats endemic species.

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With the improvement of camera trap technology, some even have video recording capabilities. The ability to capture video has allowed the camera traps to record short animal behavioural footages. One of our favourite video clip of a common palm civet was taken by Wildlife Conservation Society in Uganda, where a palm civet was startled by a small rodent.

Camera traps can provide valuable information to help us better understand the ecology of the civet and many other species as well. The possibilities of the use of camera traps in wildlife research and conservation are limitless and there is still much work to be done. If you are interested in this field, do consider starting a local camera trap research project with relevant permits and there will be surprises awaiting you!

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A first-hand experience in civet research: Reflections of a civet poop scooper

A first-hand experience in common palm civet research: Reflections of a volunteer field assistant who helped out with a civet diet study

By Steward Lee,  2013.

“In my attempt to experience the local biodiversity and conservation scene, I volunteered to help out Tze Kwan in her civet research during my summer break. Here are some of my thoughts from the various experiences from my 2 months of field work and a civet poop sorting workshop/sharing session.

Experience as a civet poop scooper

Armed with enthusiasm and 100plus every week, I ventured to Pulau Ubin to help collect data to learn more about what civets eat and their potential ecological role as seed dispersers.

Through the fieldwork, I learnt that civets are omnivores, eating mainly fruits and sometimes insects, birds and rodents. From Tze Kwan’s galore of scat collection, there seemed to be frequent items found in their poop. For plants, it was fishtail palm, while animals were mainly insect parts. Cool right? Since civets are nocturnal, we do not see them around during the day. However, with poop around means there are civets around, but the intriguing question is, where do they hide in the day? Well, that will be another question for the future!

My job was to help spot and collect the often conspicuous civet scats as we cycled along trails. It was not long before I realize that they had the preference of leaving their mark right in the middle of trails. This conspicuous location could possibly be to mark territories but civets sure have the knack of selecting spots with good sceneries too.

Scooping civet poop!

Of course it wasn’t all work and no play. Every trip was an opportunity to learn and appreciate Singapore wildlife. Tze Kwan and the other research helpers were my nature guides as they kept me entertained by sharing both their knowledge and experiences. I have definitely learnt a lot, from the biodiversity of Singapore and Ubin, the ecosystems it possesses and of course on civets. Right now, I am even pretty confident of discerning the calls of kingfishers and the oriental pied hornbills.

I often marvel at the birds, insects or plants that my keen-eyed teammates pointed out. Many times, I would have so conveniently overlooked them. Their enthusiasm was contagious and definitely kept my spirits high. Having nature enthusiasts as company really brought my nature appreciation to a deeper level.

Learning from the outdoors to indoors

Besides helping Tze Kwan with her fieldwork,  I also attended a civet sorting workshop and sharing session organised by the civetgirls where I learnt a couple of new information about the civets.

Civet poop sorting workshop!

From Weiting’s sharing on the urban civets, I learnt that the common palm civets can be found in our urban environment and are our last native urban carnivore. Due to their close proximity to our daily lives, I believe awareness and understanding is important to ensure peaceful coexistence.

For me, it is alarming that many cases of wildlife/conflict issues are often influenced by an outspoken minority. Majority of the public attitudes are positive or neutral towards the existence of wildlife within the vicinity of their living quarters but it is unfortunate that it is often the outspoken few that sways the action. Equipped with this knowledge from Weiting, I am sure that passing it on would help to create and increase awareness. This would be a great step forward if more encompassing solutions that promote coexistence can be agreed on.

Ongoing research by Weiting and Tze Kwan would reveal much more about the behavior, importance and the role that civets  play in both the urban and forested environments. With continued efforts to increase awareness by research, outreach or by word of mouth, I am positive that not just civets but urban wildlife can peacefully coexist with us. I am sure that we can respect and appreciate these animals as unique indispensable habitants of our ecology and country too.”

Thank you Steward for your help and time with my fieldwork!  I am glad you have learnt much about the common palm civet and our local biodiversity and are now involved in the conservation scene! All the best for your studies! – Tze Kwan

Happy Steward with Ubin durians! (Photo by Joys Tan)

Hours in the field are long and can be tiring, but it is an enriching journey and can be fun too, especially when it comes to collecting civet poop! Thank you all field assistants for your valuable help!

 

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