IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)
National Red List Status: Least Concern
Have you ever come across a nauseating fecal smell near a forested area? A smell so bad, that you’ve lifted your feet to see what caused it (while listing down the choicest of expletives for the occasion, in your head), and could not for the life of you find anything plastered on the soles of your shoes. Bewildered, you would then look around only to find the source of foul stench – a somber, striped, elongated cat-like creature running for cover. If the answer is yes, then you have unwittingly startled a small Indian civet (Viverricula indica) and it excreted a secretion to deter you. This odour is so strong, that in Sinhala there is a saying “උරුලෑවා ගිය පාර වගේ” which means “like the road which the civet took”.
Funny thing is, that the very secretion which can contort your face like modeling clay due to its pungent nature, is prized by high-end perfume makers. Why? Because it apparently smooths out the overall composition of perfumes. So essentially, it went from stench to scent, all because of that one really optimistic perfumer who braved to think, “what if…”.
Spread throughout the country where adequate forest/jungle cover is found, small Indian civets are mainly solitary, nocturnal (there are reports of diurnal sightings), and territorial. Because of their distinct stripes spot combination in their pelt and the ring formation in their tails, they are pretty easy to identify and sometimes get mistaken for fishing cats! They love to keep their mitts on the ground but they do happen to be good tree climbers as well, as evident by them preying on birds roosting on branches at night. Also, they are notorious for raiding inefficiently secured chicken coops if they happen to be within the vicinity. Though they love chicken, they are not primarily carnivores but are omnivores, sticking to a diet of insects, fruit, roots, rodents and carrion, if any. So, in an indirect way they also take on the role of pest control agents.
Both sexes do engage in scent marking but come mating season, the males go into a sort of frenzy and mark their scent on any vertical object they can find (they also happen to be very attentive in general when it comes to scent marking, during mating season or otherwise). After copulation, three to five young can be expected in a litter. They are a polyestrous species, which means that they can breed multiple times a year.
Not even their stinky secretions can save them indefinitely as they are targeted for their secretions or the “civet musk” which is used in the perfume industry (as mentioned before) and in medicine. They are also hunted for their pelts but luckily, like the Asian water monitors (Varanus salvator salvator), they do experience a sort of an amnesty in Sri Lanka, where deforestation is a major factor which affects their survival.