A story about an encounter with the wild musang, aka civet.
Text by Alvin Lao
I have a piece of vacant property adjacent to my office building near the financial district of Puerto Princesa City, in an area which is still surrounded by fields and trees. As it had been idle for so long, I thought of utilizing the property to raise native chickens and goats.
My first batch of 10 hens and one rooster gave me a good start. It was not long before I was taking home fresh eggs weekly from my “farm.” My wife and kids are pretty pleased with the chicken coop, and always wanted to go there to harvest the eggs from the nests, though they only ended up with one or two eggs apiece.
A few weeks after I started this project, the hens begin to hatch chicks. Unfortunately, once the chicks started to roam outside the nests, something began killing them off. Mysteriously, the dead chicks were left right where they were killed, near or inside the coop, uneaten, and with only small puncture (bite) marks. This did not worry me, though; growing up in the province accustomed me to livestock being killed by feral or wild animals.
A Different Kind of Killer
But one day, instead of the usual dead chick, an adult hen was killed. Its head was completely taken off, and was lying next to the body. Similar to previous attacks, no part of the chicken was eaten. I began to have suspicions as to what kind of killer I was dealing with.
I instructed my handyman to use an old trap we fabricated for feral cats. It looks like a much larger mousetrap with a hook for bait. We used bananas for bait, and I told him not to disturb the trap or change the bait even when the bait rots. The trap was placed a few meters from the chicken coop.
Almost a week passed before the culprit went in to take the bait. It was a musang. Also known as a civet cat or Asian Palm civet, they look like elongated cats, as though they had been crossbred with a weasel. It is a bit bigger than our domestic cats and the tail is almost as long as the body. It is a beautiful creature
to look at.
As if by coincidence, a cousin called me a few days later to get my advice regarding a cat-like creature lurking in the roof trusses of his store. Based on his description, we concluded that it was another musang.
Although there have been sightings and trappings before, I was surprised that this highly urbanized city still had musang populations scattered among its green patches. Our last sighting was more than 6 years ago, so it was surprising that we had two musang sightings in two different locations within the city proper and within the same week. I lent my trap to my cousin, who caught his musang about a week later. The two creatures were since released
into the wild.
A very strange behavior of this animal is that it seldom eats the birds that it kills. I got to talk to some old timers, and they said the musang loves to kill birds for sport. In some cases, it consumes parts of the entrails, but not the meat. This behavior was also observed by my old friend, Dr. Glen Rebong, who was the former OIC and project director of the Philippine Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC), previously known as the Crocodile Farm.
Rescuing the killer The Crocodile Farm was established in 1987 to help save Philippine crocodile species from extinction. It has also been taking in animals rescued from poachers or wild animals caught in Palaweño backyards. On June 2000, its name was changed to the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center and its mandate was expanded to save not only crocodiles, but other threatened species as well.
I asked Dr. Rebong what they did with captured musang. He said that the PWRCC is particularly careful with musang and it keeps the rehabilitation period as short as possible. After ensuring that the musang is healthy and can fend for itself, the Center releases the musang back to the wild at the soonest opportunity. The reason for this is because one of the Center’s musang escaped from its housing and immediately went to the aviary, killing off all the Nicobar pigeons.
Why a musang behaves this way, no one really knows yet. Although still considered pests by many farmers, civets are a vital part of the ecosystem. They are one of the most industrious and effective seed dispersal agents. Many types of seed cannot germinate if the pulp of the fruit is not removed or eaten by animals, while other types of seed need to be induced to germinate by the enzymes of an animal’s digestive tract. Imagine: how then would the next generation of trees rejuvenate our forests if there weren’t any civets about?
Why we need to save the killer I have been fascinated by this creature since I first came across it as a child. During my younger years, Puerto Princesa City was more of a forest than a city. Almost every household kept some animal as pet.
The musang or civet cat is not a cat. It is more closely related to the weasel, ferret, and even the mongoose. Existing literature classifies the musang as primarily carnivorous, though they are not averse to having fruit for dessert. However, I (and my fellow Palawaños) beg to differ. I believe the lines are drawn more to the middle. It is either they are primarily fruit lovers, or they eat more or less a balanced amount of meat and fruit. After all, the musang is famous for the most expensive coffee in the world: Kape Alamid, also known as Kopi Luwak in Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Musang are thought to pick only the berries that are at their optimum period of ripeness. This behavior, coupled with digestion and fermentation inside its stomach, results in “golden poop,” the coffee beans they excrete that are ground into Kape Alamid.
While it is not an endangered species, the increasing trend of capturing and force-feeding them with coffee berries has become one of the most serious threats to their existence, resulting in their depleting numbers in the wild and inbreeding inside musang farms. So when you go hunting for the famous Kape Alamid, try to make sure that these do not come from caged, forced-fed civets. Not only do you help discourage this inhumane practice, you also avoid getting ripped off. Since caged civets do not actually get to choose their berries, they are not producing genuine Alamid.
I learned that musang are very protective parents; they like to build their dens in people’s “kisame” (roof eaves), and they usually have two kits (babies) for each breeding season. On the Internet, I learned that they are consumed as a delicacy in Guangzhou, China, and are the primary suspect for spreading the SARS virus.
I still lose a chick or two once in a while. I have reason to believe my captured musang’s kin are continuing the mischief. I feel annoyed that they hinder the success of my little poultry farm, but I also feel comforted, because their presence indicates that they are able to adapt to the uncontrolled destruction of the environment. The limited green patches on this side of the city will soon disappear. I only hope that I can transfer many members of this musang colony to the forests on the other side of Puerto Princesa before they end up in somebody’s stew.
This appeared in Animal Scene’s November 2015 issue.