Civet Survival Stories
Earth is scarred by human activity, and we now live in unprecedented times of ecological change. Nothing summarises this more than ‘the Anthropocene’, the term proposed by Atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer (2000) for the current geological epoch. The pinnacle of human progress, “Anthropo” (human) recognizes humans as central to the transition from the Holocene to a new era dictated by the advancement in human technology; an advancement that will be noted in the very geology of the planet in centuries to come. Common Anthropocene discourse follows a harrowing storyline of human population growth, the technological purging of natural resources, the destruction of habitats and mass species extinction, resulting in desolate dystopian futures. Yet these depictions overlook the slow process of extinction, the untangling of multi-species worlds over successive generations (van Dooren 2014), and the subtle and conflicting roles technologies play in multi-species futures. Specifically, how is human technology threatening, preventing, slowing, and even overturning species eradication from Earth?
The focus granted to species absence also omits the new worlds created through emergent multi-species and bio-techno relationships. Yet, as it stands, many of these worlds will remain unknown. Current rates of species extinction could be up to 1,000 times higher than predicted due to the vast number of species yet to be taxonomically identified (Pimm et al., 2014). Thus, innumerable numbers of species per year disappear from Earth without ever being noticed by humanity to begin with. The nuances of extinction have yet to be appropriately addressed. What then, can be learned by turning to species at the periphery of scientific interest?
Civets, members of the family Viverridae, are examples of little-known species. Belonging to an ancient lineage of Feliformia (or cat-like animals), civets are native throughout much of Southeast Asia. Their large geographic distribution, varied diets and adaptability to anthropogenic impact have made many civet species common throughout much of their range (Jennings and Veron, 2009). Yet very little is known about civets and there is much contestation surrounding their taxonomic status (Veron et al., 2015). Their nocturnal and solitary nature have traditionally afforded civets an air of secrecy, and their apparent commonality has left them at the fringes of conservation science.
Through the lens of the civet, a family of animals whose complexities remain largely unknown (Hooper, 2022), this project seeks to look closer at the bio-techno-human-animal relationships shaping stories of survival in the Anthropocene. The careful philosophical telling of extinction processes will challenge anthropocentric narratives of the current epoch by bringing the animal Other into focus, illustrating the multi-species worlds being shaped and co-created in response to one another in times of ecological crisis. Through the civet it is possible to explore the ways in which animals disappear from this world, be it figuratively through their exploitation, the disappearance from human conscience, and literally through their physical disappearance from our shared planet. For civets, disappearance occurs in various ways from their secretive nature to their enrolment into hidden systems of exploitation, their hybridization, and death.
An interdisciplinary project which engages with in-situ and ex-situ conservation scientists, NGO's, cryopreservation technologists, zoological institutions and accrediting bodies, 'Stories of Survival' brings a plurality of voices to the issue of disappearance to challenge the so often bleak rhetoric within dystopian Anthropocene narratives.
The project, currently in its infancy, aims to produce a series of works including a book following the conservation stories of civets and humans in and outside of Viverrid home ranges, conference presentations, and scientific reports intended to aid current conservation objectives.
Current, and ongoing, methods and proposed dissemination are detailed below.
Owston's civet (Chrotogale owstoni) EEP analysis
Owston's civet (Chrotogale owstoni) are an endangered civet species recognized as a conservation priority. Managed in an EAZA Ex Situ Program (EEP), owston's civet are part of an accredited ex-situ breeding program hoped to build and safeguard a genetically sustainable population for the future. As part of 'Stories of Survival', the Civet Project is qualitatively and quantitatively analysing archival specimen reports for all owston's civet's entered into the program from 1995 until the present day. Through analysis of specimen reports, not only can the lives and deaths of civet individuals be brought into focus, but a more nuanced assessment of captive management processes can be achieved. Archival records present an interesting lens through which to assess the health, welfare, and reproductive potentials of the population since the emergence of this ex situ initiative.
The full analysis will be disseminated via:
A scientific report provided to all holding collections
Peer reviewed publication
Owston's civet conservation story
To accompany the analysis of EEP records for Owston's civet (Chrotogale owstoni) in captivity, the Civet Project is also tracing the in-situ conservation story of this species and other civets. To date, participant interviews with zoologists, conservationists, and NGO staff working with civets in Vietnam have begun to illuminate the story of how the global Owston's civet conservation strategy came to emerge. From the rescue of three civet kittens in the early 1990's, to the zoonotic disease events which nearly destroyed hope, to the successful transfer of six individuals to Europe and now the development of an in-situ breeding centre in the forests of Vietnam, this conservation story explores the human-animal, environmental, political and technological mergers which have necessitated, threatened and facilitated the conservation of this beautiful and iconic mammal.
This project will go on to include:
Ethnographic fieldwork in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam
A post-doctoral research project
Once complete, this project will be disseminated via:
A series of peer reviewed publications
Jes, lead researcher and founder of the Civet Project, is a member of the IUCN SSC Small Carnivore Specialist Group, and a Anthrozoology PhD Candidate at the University Exeter.