British conservationists say the Malabar Civet may have become extinct
Kounteya Sinha, TNN | May 17, 2013, 01.50 PM IST

LONDON: Western Ghats' rarest and most threatened mammal - the Malabar Civet may have become extinct.

The Zoological Society of London in the first map of the world's most unique and threatened mammals and amphibians released today say that the population status of the Civet is presently unknown.

The species was thought to be near extinction by the late 1960s and was declared possibly extinct by the IUCN in 1978.

The species was rediscovered by the Zoological Survey of India, which obtained skins of two recently killed Malabar civets in 1987.

"There were further reports of the species in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, there have been no sightings or published proof of the survival of the species since, leading researchers to speculate once again that the species may be extinct," ZSL said on Friday.

This small, dog like carnivore has been pushed to the brink of extinction by hunting and habitat loss.

Once widespread in the Western Ghats, the species was declared possibly extinct in 1978. Although it was rediscovered nine years later, it has never been photographed and there has been no published proof of its continued survival for over a decade.

"If the species survives at all, it is likely to be as a series of relic populations, largely confined to thickets in cashew nut plantations," ZSL added. According to British conservationists the Malabar civet once inhabited the lowland forests, lowland swamp and riparian forests in the coastal plain districts of Western Ghats.

ZSL said "However, now that natural forests have disappeared form the entire stretch of the coastal Western Ghats, the species now appears to be largely confined to thickets in cashew plantations and to highly degraded lowland forests in northern Kerala."

"This species is endemic to the Western Ghats of India. It has been recorded in southern India from Kanyakumariin (in the state of Tamil Nadu) in the extreme south to Honnavar in Karnataka in the north. However, given that it has lost almost all of its primary habitat, it is likely that the species is now represented by relic populations in sub-optimal habitats along the foothills and lower slopes of the Western Ghats."

ZSL has therefore suggested an immediate and urgent field survey to identify the location of any remaining populations along with research into the species' ecology and threats.

"This information will help to inform the development of a Species Conservation Strategy. Captive breeding and reintroduction (if suitable undisturbed areas exist) may also be necessary. In addition, increasing awareness among forest department staff, local communities, field researchers and members of the scientific community has also been recommended," ZSL added.