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#DispatchesDNLee: Mystery scat producer identified – African Civet

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I opened up a new field site for this field season. It was a beast! Although I only caught two individual Pouched rats over the 80 x80 m square grid, it was a great effort. And much was learned.

In addition to non-target captures in my live traps, I also put out camera traps. I wanted to catalog the rats’ movements in and near suspected paths and nest sites.  I mostly have pictures of swaying blades of grass or leaves; but this morning I was very pleasantly surprised to see this:

I let out a big gasp!

For weeks my assistants and I have seen these very large scat piles along my last line.  This spot was obviously a latrine site for animals; there were several piles of scat of various ages all within a few centimeters of another.  I knew it had to come from a rather large animal, the bolus was about 2 inches in diameter and and long as an ink pen…and lots of it.  As it decomposed we could see what the animal was eating. Scats consisted of millipedes, palm seeds, even banana pieces (my bait!). This was an omnivore, but so big. I couldn’t figure out what it could be or where it might be living. I was tromping around out there nearly everyday and hadn’t come across anything.

Well, thanks to technology (and patience), now we know.

I’m always pretty geeked to come across charismatic fauna; and I have a special place in my heart for predators! (Love them! I swear I’m living the my 5 year old self who watched all of those African Wildlife safari show with such awe!)

Mammalogist use animal clues like scat (poop) to determine the type and sometimes number of animals that live in a habitat. Simple, non-invasive technology like camera traps can help us identify and record animals (and animal behavior) to confirm identities.

African Civets belong to the Viverridae Family and are the only member the genus Civettictus. They are as large as it looks in this photo – reaching a body size of 2-3 feet long, with a tail that extends them another foot or so and standing about a foot and a half off the ground. I am so glad that these animals are nocturnal. I doubt I want to meet one of these guys as I’m humming along checking or setting traps!

Karibu to my adventures!

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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