Their long gray coats are mottled with large black spots. They have long tails banded in black and a black crest of long fur down their backs. Although most civets look like cats, the Malabar large spotted civet more closely resembles a dog with its long legs and dog-like head.
Malabar civets stay hidden in the thickets during the day and forage for food at night. They have never been seen in trees, and probably obtain their food on the ground. They are thought to eat eggs, small mammals, and some vegetation.
Solitary animals, they can become aggressive when they encounter members of their own species. Female Malabar large spotted civets usually have from one to four offspring at a time, and they raise their young in the cover of thickets in the woods.
Habitat and current distribution
The original home of the Malabar large spotted civet was in the Western Ghats, a mountain range in southwest India. The species lived in the wooded plains and natural forests surrounding the mountains.
Today the Malabar large spotted civet is one of the rarest mammals of the world. In 1999, it was estimated that there were less than 250 surviving adult animals in the wild. Small, scattered populations are thought to exist in certain areas of South Malabar.
History and conservation measures
With the elimination of its habitat, the Malabar large spotted civet population declined drastically. By the 1960s, the species was thought to be extinct. However, members of the species were found in the late 1980s, and some isolated groups are still known to exist.
One of the reasons for the disappearance of the Malabar civet was that they were once hunted as a source of “civet musk,” a product used in perfumes. The largest threat to the species, however, is the deforestation of its original habitat in the Western Ghats, which forces the population into tiny isolated areas.
The refuge of the last remaining Malabar civets during the last decades of the twentieth century was the area’s cashew plantations, which are not weeded and therefore provide the dense thickets the animals can use as their homes. These are now being cleared for rubber plantations.