Secretive night dwellers of Singapore

I was visiting Bidadari one evening, expecting to photograph some usual or uncommon birds as the migratory season has begun. I bumped into a group of 5 photographers, and asked what were they waiting for. One of them replied “civet cat”. I had to asked again to confirm what I heard. “Civet cat” the photographer repeated. I was suddenly filled with adrenaline as I had always wanted to photograph a civet in Singapore but due to their nocturnal and arboreal nature, had not been able to do so.

This species of civet is the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), aka Common Palm Civet, Toddy Cat, or Musang in Malay. Civets are not cats, although physically it looks similar. They are classified under the family Viverridae, which includes civets and genets. They can be found throughout Southern Asia and South-east Asia, occurring naturally in temperate forest and tropical forest. They can also be found in developed area such as parks, gardens, plantation, fruit orchards etc, where food are aplenty for them.

I was aware that the civet has been sighted at Bidadari before, but did not chance upon it until now. The civet was resting in the a broken tree hollow with a tiny gap to look through. I soon realized the civet was a mother of two kittens. Female civets after gestation will give birth to two to five young in tree hollows or boulder crevices for protection. The civet family were resting inside the tree, occasionally moving around where parts of their body can be seen through the gap.

I continued to wait, not expecting too much but hoping that it would come out and show itself a little more. After about close to an hour wait, there were more movements inside the tree hollow. the kittens were also active. The mother and young would look through the gap at us on occasion, checking us out.


DSC_9522aMum checking us out


Slowly, the mother’s head started inching out, and finally her whole head was exposed and she look directly at us. I took as many shots as I could before she retreated back down into its slumber. It was another hour’s wait before she became active again and came out of the tree, this time her body was out but she was facing away from us. She then retreated back again and did not came out again. We left as it was getting dark but I was very satisfied and happy of what I had gotten.





2 weeks later, I went back to visit the civet family again. They were in the same tree hollow. The kittens had gotten bigger and are more active, often poking its head out. This time, I decided to stay till a later time to watch the family come out of their home. Both kittens had gotten really active and slowly the mother as well. It was past 7pm now and before I could witness the mother leaving her home. I had to leave as it had gotten really dark and impossible for me to get a proper shot. I left the civet to their night activities as it is time for me to go home to rest for the night.




This encounter of the Asian Palm Civet is one of a kind especially in Singapore, where many people, nature lovers included, had not known of their existence here. Once again, Bidadari has proved it is worth protecting from development, with a wide variety of animals from more than 140 species of birds sighted, reptiles such as green crested lizard and black spitting cobra, to mammals like squirrels and civets.

Chances of seeing a civet in Singapore are slim, as they are only active at night. But if you do encounter one in the day, they are normally seen resting up a tree doing nothing much. Should you really be fortunate to encounter one, do give them space, keep your voices down and not do any fast actions so as not to startle them. With some patience, you may be rewarded with an awesome experience with them.

In Indonesia, these civets are used to produce the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak. Seeds from the coffee fruits are left undigested after excretion by the civet. These seeds are then collected, cleansed, roasted and grounded to create the coffee beverage. It is said that the civets selection of the fruits and digestive mechanism will improve the flavor of the coffee beans. Initially, the coffee beans were picked from wild civet droppings, and due to this unusual way of harvesting coffee beans, it is rare and hence the high price, selling as much as US$100-US$600 per pound. In order to harvest more beans, civet farms have been established and civets are subject to life in captivity and animal cruelty. In order not to let these civets suffer, it would be wise not to purchase Kopi Luwak, even if it is a luxury coffee.


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© [Dennis Ong] [DennisOngPhotography], [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear is given to [Dennis Ong] [Dennis Ong Photography] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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