Overview

Brief Summary

The family Nandiniidae includes just a single species, the nocturnal, arboreal, mainly solitary, and somewhat secretive African Palm Civet (Nandinia binotata). African Palm Civets are among the most common small carnivores in forested regions throughout much of tropical Africa, although they are threatened by both habitat destruction and hunting by humans for food, traditional medicine, and fur for decorative uses (they are the most commonly sold carnivores in markets in Equatorial Guinea and Guinea), as well as to protect crops and poultry. They are found in rain forests and deciduous forests in West and Central Africa from Gambia to southwest Sudan and can also be found in some regions with montane and subtropical forest in northern Angola and eastern and southeastern Africa. They are common in coastal lowland forests and their range extends into montane forest as high as 2500 meters in both West Africa (Cameroon) and East Africa (Tanzania). In addition to rain forests, African Palm Civets are found in riparian forest, deciduous woodland, and savannah woodland, occurring not only in undisturbed forest but also in secondary forest and other disturbed woodlands.

At one time African Palm Civets were placed in the family Viverridae. By the mid-20th century, however, the species was moved to its own family based on several very distinctive morphological features, a taxonomic judgement that has been supported by subsequent phylogenetic analysis based on both molecular and morphological data (e.g., Eizirik et al. 2010).

African Palm Civets feed mainly on fruit, but also take some animal prey such as insects, bird eggs and nestlings, small rodents, and even carrion.

In parts of their range, African Palm Civets are sometimes kept as pets.

(Gaubert 2009 and references therein)

  • Eizirik, E., W.J. Murphy, K.-P. Koepfli, et al. 2010. Pattern and timing of diversification of the mammalian order Carnivora inferred from multiple nuclear gene sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 56(1): 49-63.
  • Gaubert, P. 2009. Family Nandiniidae (African Palm Civet). Pp. 50-53 in: Wilson, D.E. & Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 1. Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
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Comprehensive Description

The family Nandiniidae contains just one genus and species, Nandinia binotata, the African palm civet.

  • Wozencraft, W. 2005. Order Carnivora. Pp. 532-628 in D Wilson, D Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Distribution

African palm civets are distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, from southern Sudan to Guinea-Bissau and southward to eastern Zimbabwe and northern Angola.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Kingdon, J. 1988. East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa, Volume 3, Part A: Carnivores. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Physical Description

Morphology

African palm civets are small, muscular carnivores, with powerful limbs and long, sturdy tails suited to agility in the treetops. These animals range in length from 440 to 580 mm, with the tail adding another 460 to 620 mm. Weight ranges from 1.7 to 5 kg, with males at the high end of this range. African palm civets have short, round ears and yellow eyes with pupils that narrow to a slit in sunlight. The claws are sharp, curved, and fully retractile. The soft, woolly coat gives these animals protection from the elements and the coloration provides camouflage: it is gray or brown and mottled with darker brown on the lower back, and the underparts are grayish-yellow. The tail is darker than the body and ringed with black. There are scent glands between the toes, on the palms, on the abdomen, and possibly on the chin.

Nandinia can be set apart from other living feliform taxa by the primitive condition of its   basicranium and   auditory bulla. The bulla is not inflated and is single-chambered, and the paroccipital process is directed caudally and does not contact the bulla. Also, the caudal entotympanic is cartilaginous, which is a feature unknown in any other living carnivore.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

  • Wiig, O. 1985. Relationship of Nandinia binotata (Gray) to the Superfamily Feloidea (Mammalia, Carnivora). Zoologica Scripta, 14(2): 155-159.
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Ecology

Habitat

African palm civets are forest-dwelling mammals that spend the majority of their time in trees. Occasionally they cross open areas in search of food.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

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Trophic Strategy

African palm civets are omnivores, with fruit making up the largest portion of their diet. They also feed on small mammals, birds, bird eggs, and insects. They primarily forage in trees, but may also search for fallen fruit on the forest floor. African palm civets do not attack active birds and mammals, preferring to capture these larger prey animals when they are sleeping. They hold their prey steady with their forearms while they deliver a quick series of killing bites, after which they may swallow their food whole.

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

African palm civets are primary and higher-level consumers, because they eat both fruit and animals. They are also prey themselves for raptors, pythons, and leopards.

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Potential predators of African palm civets include diurnal raptors, pythons, and leopards. African palm civets avoid predation through cryptic coloration and agility in the trees.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

African palm civets sense visual, chemical, auditory, and tactile stimuli, as do other carnivores. Olfaction is particularly well-developed, and scent is the primary means of communication. Glands on the palms and between the toes leave scent trails when these animals walk along branches. Individuals have been observed rubbing their chins on tree bark, either to pick up scents from others or to leave their own. A strong-smelling brown secretion is produced by an area of glandular skin on the lower abdomen; this is also used for scent-marking. In addition, females have scent glands in the skin overlaying the mammary glands. Secretions from these scent glands stain the fur of the belly a bright orange-yellow and rub off on the nursing young. This scent appears to repel sexual approaches by males and perhaps neutralizes attacks on the young. African palm civets also communicate through vocalizations. Males and females cry out during courtship, and females "meow" to call their young. Nursing young purr like cats, a possible tactile form of communication.

Communication Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

The typical lifespan of wild African palm civets is not known. A longevity record of 15.8 years has been established in captivity.

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Reproduction

The mating system of African palm civets has not been reported, but they are presumed to be polygynous based on the fact that one adult male territory usually overlaps several adult female territories. Both males and females have been heard emitting loud cries during courtship.

Mating System: polygynous

African palm civets breed year round, with peak births in May and October. The gestation period is 64 days. Usually there are two young per litter, but litters of up to four have been reported. These animals reach sexual maturity at three years of age.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous

Like all eutherian mammals, female African palm civets nourish their young through the placenta before giving birth, and then with milk afterwards. Males make no investment in their offspring besides providing sperm. For bearing young, females seek out arboreal shelters such as tree hollows. Age to weaning has not been reported, but it is known that male offspring leave their mothers' territories immediately afterward. Young females may remain somewhat longer.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female); post-independence association with parents

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Kingdon, J. 1988. East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa, Volume 3, Part A: Carnivores. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 1
Specimens with Sequences: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Public Records: 1
Public Species: 1
Public BINs: 1
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Barcode data

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Conservation

Conservation Status

Nandinia is classified as lower risk by the IUCN. African palm civets are still common and widespread.

  • IUCN, 2006. "2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed September 20, 2006 at www.redlist.org.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Palm civets frequent chicken coops and steal roosting poultry.

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Humans occasionally tame African palm civets and keep them in their homes to control rodents and cockroaches.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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