Sulawesi: Endangered “warriors” also known as Civets

Deep jungle is no longer safe for Sulawesi’s endangered “warriors” –
the civets – so nicknamed for their daring agility, climbing skill and
other unique endowments. The protected species – discovered over a
century ago but less popular than anoa or dwarf buffaloes (Bubalus sp)
and babirusa or hog deer (Babiroussa babirusa) – is famed for roaming
fearlessly at night. The nocturnal animal sleeps or rests during the
daytime under shady trees or deep in the undergrowth.

It never roams
in a pack, roving in pairs at most or sometimes alone. As the only
endemic carnivore of the region, Sulawesi civets are fond of hiding in
thickets, stalking their prey with almost inaudible steps. Their small
and sharp teeth, like those of cats, as well as spiky claws function
as weapons against other predators or prey while serving also as a
means of tree climbing. “Their skill in going up and down trees with
their backs straight further justifies their reference as the warriors
of the Sulawesi jungle,” said Ismet Khaeruddin, director of Nature
Conservancy, Central Sulawesi. The wide distribution of sugar palm
trees in different forest areas of Sulawesi is inseparable from the
role of civets in spreading the seeds of sugar palm fruits. “So, one
of the best indications to identify civets’ existence is the presence
of numerous sugar palm trees.,” Ismet said.

Apart from being a source
of animal feed, sugar palm trees also produce juice processed by
villagers into brown sugar, while their leaves are used for roofs and
their young fruit preserved as sweets. Two Western researchers, Chirs
Wemmer and D. Watling, conducted a survey of the habitat and life of
civets in the national park and managed to take their pictures using
infrared technology, resulting in a book entitled Ecology and the
Sulawesi palm civet, Macrogalidia musschenbroekii (1986). The document
served as a resource book for following conservationists, such as
those compiling The Ecology of Sulawesi, published by Gajah Mada
University Press (1987); Anthony J. Whitten along with Muslimin
Mustafa and Gregory S Henderson, however, barely described Sulawesi
civets. He said that Sulawesi civets were found, though rarely, in
Lore Lindu National Park, Tokalekaju mountain range, the west coast of
Donggala, Mount Ambang, Mount Rantemario, Mount Sojol and in several
other areas. They feed on small mammals like rats, squirrels, piglets,
small birds, fowls and eggs, in addition to fruits like bananas and
palm or sugar palm (Arenga pi*nata) fruits. Feeding at night, civets
rely on their excellent night vision and are capable of detecting
their prey from only a few meters’ distant. Bigger than those from
other regions, Sulawesi civets are seen as giant civets (Macrogalidia
musschenbroekii), identified by their blackish-brown skin. The other
smaller species with reddish-gray skin (Viverra tangalunga) can be
found in Sulawesi as well as on other islands. People around Mount
Sojol nature reserve call civets cingkalung, while the Lore ethnic
people in Lore Lindu National Park in Central Sulawesi know them as
hulaku. Compared with Viverra, Macrogalidia civets are as big as
domestic dogs, reaching an average weight of 10 kilograms and a length
of 130 cm – from head to tail. They are nearly as large as Sulawesi
cuscuses (Phalanger celebensis) which are the island’s other typical
mammal of the bear lineage. Viverra civets are smaller and shorter,
the size of adult domestic cats, with an average weight of only seven
kilograms. However, both have the physical appearance and basic nature
of cats, with their liking for night roaming and inclination to climb
trees and to play, thus having some ties of feline kinship to the
viverridae family.

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