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Civets and Ichneumons

( Originally Published 1936 )

The Civets represent a rather primitive type of the carnivora, animals of a very similar character being found among the fossil remains in various parts of the world. Nearly allied to the cats, they are much less specialised—that is, they have changed little in form from early times, whereas the cat animals, the bears, the dogs, etc., have undergone considerable modification. In this country, in particular, we find many large and small species of fossil animals closely resembling Civets in many ways.

Some of this family are tree-living, and some prefer the ground; most of them are night animals, feeding chiefly on birds and small mammals, and exhibit a low degree of intelligence. They are natives of Asia and Africa, and are domesticated in the south of Europe. They are usually a silver-grey, more or less banded, the pattern being very beautiful, and the hair long and brilliant in appearance. Civets are comparatively small animals, with longer bodies and shorter legs than most of the cats, and have partially retractile claws. Many of them have sac-like glands toward the extremity of the body which secrete the substance known as civet, formerly much used in medicine, but now chiefly valued as a base for perfumery. There are many species, which while they differ considerably in general character nevertheless resemble each other closely in form and character.

The common Genet (Genetta vulgaris), a species of Civet, differs from the larger African forms in the absence of pouches containing civet. The range of this animal is in the Mediterranean region. In some countries the Civets are kept in houses as protection against rats and mice, to which they are deadly enemies. In character they are extremely quiet, but alert, obtaining their prey by stealing up and suddenly seizing it with a swift movement of the neck and body. The eye is very remarkable, being extremely fierce and brilliant in expression. They are retiring and rather solitary animals, and in captivity are not particularly interesting owing to their habit of sleeping during the day. They exhibit a certain amount of affection toward their keepers and are able to recognize them at a glance. On account of this unfortunate habit of remaining quiet and sleeping by day, they are apt to be put in 'small and badly-lighted cages, which conceal their true beauty and grace from the casual observer. As a matter of fact, they are most beautifully marked and graceful animals, having singularly pliable and elastic bodies.

A very remarkable creature closely allied to the Civet is the Binturong (Arctitis binturong), a native of Borneo and probably found in some of the other large islands. It is covered with a thick, black, and bristly fur, and the prehensile tail is long and heavily-furred. The ears are tufted with hair at the ends, and the whiskers are stiff and white. A fine specimen in the zoological collection at Philadelphia is quite tame and allows its keeper to handle it freely. Al-though naturally nocturnal in habit, yet this one, owing to its fondness for its keeper, would remain awake during the day, when it exhibited, many curious characteristics. The inside of the mouth was a brilliant red and looked exactly like a piece of red wax against which, when the animal yawned—as it did on many occasions during the day-the small white teeth showed in brilliant contrast. Altogether, the appearance of the Binturong is very singular and unlike that of any other creature. The specimen mentioned was fed upon a varied diet, consisting of vegetables, eggs, and meat. It was large, about five feet in length, including the tail.

Civet (Viverra civetta)

The common Civet is a native of the northern half of Africa, and is of a yellowish-grey colour, more or less banded and blotched with black. Along the back runs a short mane, which can be erected at will. The Civet varies considerably in size, being generally about two and a half feet in length, without the tail, which is at least one-third the length of the body. See Plate 9, Fig. 46.

Ichneumon (Herpestes ichneumon)

The Ichneumons, or Mongooses, differ from the civets in several particulars. Like them their bodies are long, the legs very short, and the tail long and tapering, but their claws are not retractile and they have no scent-glands. The fur is coarse and long and has a mottled or grizzled appearance, owing to its alternate light and dark colouring. See Plate 9, Fig. 45. Only a portion of the soles of their feet rests on the ground, so they walk, neither flat-footed like the bear, nor on the toes only, like the dog. They usually live in holes in the ground, and are extremely quick in their movements. Perhaps the most interesting species are the Egyptian Ichneumon, which is figured, and the Indian Mongoose (Herpestes mungo), which is chiefly remarkable for the deadly enmity which it bears toward the snake family in general, many thrilling tales being told of fights between cobras and Mongooses. There have been a number of descriptions of the Mongoose's method of over-coming the snake. One that is justly praised is contained in Rudyard Kipling's " Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." When set to fight a cobra in a closed room, the following were the tactics adopted: Upon being re-leased, the cobra took up its position in a corner of the room, coiled, with head erected, ready to strike. The mongoose, being brought to a window, and al-lowed to jump down into the room, rounded its back so as to make the hair stand straight out, thus apparently increasing his size to double its former appearance. The mongoose then approached on tiptoe, keeping up a peculiar humming noise. The advance was made by a series of zigzags, bringing it constantly nearer, while the snake watched every movement, on the alert to deliver its deadly stroke. The observer says that the snake appeared to strike the mongoose repeatedly, but without effect. Suddenly, with a movement so quick as to be unperceived, the mongoose pinned the cobra by the back of the head, crunching the skull. This particular animal is said to have killed a large number of cobras without ever being bitten. When brought near a snake, the Mon-goose becomes very much excited, running back and forth in front of the snake, as the reptile remains on guard, head erect and hood expanded, ready for the expected attack. Keeping up these erratic movements for a considerable time, the Mongoose gradually gets nearer and nearer to the enraged cobra, until, with lightning-like quickness, it pounces upon its antagonist and almost invariably kills with a single bite. The Indian Mongoose is usually of a brownish-grey colour, the hair somewhat grizzled, and in form it is very snake-like, its movements being extremely lithe and sinuous. The eyes are small, but very brilliant in expression, and the whole appearance of the animail is one of relentless ferocity. In captivity it shows remarkable restlessness, darting back and forth for hours in the narrow limits of its cage.



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