Investigating the island past and present, with tips, trivia and time travel – and the occasional tricky challenge for readers!
INTRODUCING THE CIVET! EL’s editor-in-chief recently had a close encounter with a civet who was climbing around in her garden in broad daylight; the large and quite friendly animal made repeat visits on other days too. It prompted us to find out more about them. Here are ten things we learnt: #2 They’re actually more closely related to mongooses (we’ve seen them referred to as “a cross between a mongoose, a dog and a racoon”). #3 There are around 12 varieties of civet, four of which can be found here. The Common Palm Civet is native to Singapore. #4 Spotting a civet up close and in the middle of the day is rare; you’re more likely to see them at night, most commonly in Siglap, Bukit Timah, Portsdown and the Southern Ridges. #5 Known in Malay as “musang”, civets are sometimes referred to in English as “toddy cats”. This comes from their habit of climbing coconut trees that had been tapped for their sap and drinking the fermented sap, known as “toddy”. #6 A civet’s diet includes pretty much anything they can find (they’re omnivores), but they’re particularly fond of fruit such as mangos and bananas. They tend to swallow seeds whole and then defecate them, so they play an important role in dispersing seeds in forests. #1 Civets aren’t cats!
#7 Another favourite snack of civets is coffee cherries, though, again, they don’t eat the beans. This gave some bright spark the idea of sifting through civet faeces to find the semi-digested beans and making a cup of coffee out of them. Apparently, the effect of the digestive enzymes on the beans gives them extra flavour and aroma. The resulting coffee, known as kopi luwak , is among the most expensive in the world. #8 Not that we’ve given it a go, but if you smell the secretions from a civet’s anal scent gland, it’s said to have a similar aroma to pandan. In fact, the smell of pandan is one sign that a civet may be around. #9 Speaking of a civet’s glandular secretions, these have been used in perfumery for over a thousand years. It sounds eww , but apparently when it’s diluted, the smell is “floral” and “velvety”. Happily for the animals, today a synthetic version of the substance called civetone is primarily used instead. For instance, Chanel replaced the real stuff with the lab-produced stuff back in 1998. #10 The civet gets a mention in Shakespeare ( As You Like It , Act 2, Scene 3). One character remarks, “The courtier's hands are perfumed with civet,” only for the other to proclaim, “civet is of baser birth than tar, the very uncleanly flux of a cat”. If you’ve found a civet in your house, or one that appears to be injured, call NParks’ Animal Response Centre at 1800 476 1600.
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