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Celebrating Civets: The First Ever 'World Civet Day!'

On 4th April 2024, just four months after The Civet Project Foundation received official charity status, we launched the worlds first "World Civet Day"- a day of global civet celebration. Why was this date chosen? And what inspired us to create a day dedicated to an ancient yet under-studied family of small carnivore? Our Trustee, Zak Showell, explains all...

Imagine this, you’re in your early 30s, dressed in your best suit awaiting an interview

for your first CEO role at a zoo and someone goes “Do you want to see the Owston’s

civets?” You’re there with your shiny shoes peering into a nest box at an animal that

looks like a child’s imagined it up. It’s a bit like a cat, or is it a dog, or a weasel? It has

big mouse-like ears, and a long black tail. This was my first introduction to the

wonderful and enigmatic Owston’s civet.

Five years on (I got the job BTW) and I’m the European Association of Zoos and

Aquaria breeding programme coordinator for the Owston's civet species. I have been to visit an

amazing conservation partner of ours, Save Vietnams Wildlife, twice, and have

dedicated hours upon hours to highlighting the plight this species is facing as well as

the incredibly work zoos and organisations across the world are doing to prevent

them from going extinct.

Owston's civet (Chrotogale owstoni)

In 2019, I was very humbled and excited when I was invited to attend the conservation

planning meeting for Owston’s civets in Hanoi, Vietnam. Here, as the fate of the species hung in the balance, conservation experts convened to discuss the actions needed to save them. What was heartening to see was that even at the planning stage of conservation intervention, it was acknowledged the important role that ex-situ breeding and management of the species would have on its ongoing survival in the wild. To this day I am still in awe that the director of a small zoo in Devon, UK, has their name on that global conservation plan, the first conservation plan for any civet species. On the 4th April, after an incredibly intense but rewarding 4 days of discussions, the plan to save the species was complete. However, it stuck with me that despite having world experts in a room dedicating hours to come up with a plan to save the species, most people had no idea it even existed.

The Owston's civet conservation planning workshop in Hanoi, Vietnam, 2019.
The Owston's civet conservation planning workshop in Hanoi, Vietnam, 2019.

It seems nowadays that there are days celebrating everything from lemurs to talking

like pirates but there wasn’t anything for my beloved civets. I mulled over ideas of

how to bring a spotlight on this species and thought that the date the species action plan was agreed, 4th April, would make the ideal date to celebrate all things civet. Unfortunately, however, I never had the time to get the idea off the ground. Despite mentioning it to a few people, nothing happened until The Civet Project stepped in.

I had known Jes, the founder of The Civet Project Foundation, for a few years having helped with

parts of her PhD thesis. When she said she was setting up a charity aimed solely

around civets and the family they belong to, Viverrids, there was a light bulb moment-

Oh this is how World Civet Day happens!

I was incredibly fortunate for Jes to ask me to be a trustee of The Civet Project Foundation and

one thing I realised early on was there was no chance I could have got World Civet

Day off the ground without the help and support of the many volunteers who got

involved in its planning. From activity sheets to social media content creation, our little task

force thought of everything we might need to make the day a success. There was

weekly planning meetings and a myriad of emails sent to zoos and charities across

the world to try and get them involved.

All I ever wanted from a World Civet Day was for more people across the world to

see how interesting Viverrids are. There are 33 species in total, found across Africa

and Asia and 10 of these are threatened with extinction. From a zoo’s perspective

Viverrids aren’t the sexiest animals to engage the public with. They’re typically

nocturnal, they can smell, and they lack the gravitas of an elephant or a tiger but this

doesn’t mean they don’t need our help. Viverrids tend to be a side exhibit at a zoo or

mixed in with other more enigmatic species. I did have one advantage though, because the

zoo I run, Shaldon Wildlife Trust, has always been the champion for the lesser-

known underdog species. In fact, Shaldon Wildlife Trust had been working with

Owston’s civet for nearly 20 years and our founding Director, Stewart Muir, is now an

adviser to Save Vietnams Wildlife who protect the species in Vietnam.

Owston's civet at Shaldon Wildlife Trust in Devon, UK
Owston's civet at Shaldon Wildlife Trust in Devon, UK

When the day came, 4th April (the anniversary of the Owston’s civet conservation

plan) we started to see the hashtags role in: #worldcivetday. Zoos got engaged, running civet themed activities and competitions. Our conservation partners, such as Save Vietnams Wildlife , Wild Welfare and the Asia for Animals Coalition, posted special edition blogs, newsletters, seminars, and podcast episodes. Even those we hadn't approached ourselves joined in with World Civet Day celebrations.

In total, 55 organisations shared World Civet Day content on their social media. We had

organisations involved from countries across the world including Vietnam, UK, USA,

Sumatra, Borneo and Norway. People came up with such inventive ways to get

involved from making seed bombs to behavioural change campaigns on saying no to

civet coffee. We were all in awe of how this little seed of an idea had spread. Finally a spotlight was being shone on my little civets.

Will World Civet Day continue? Well according to Google, and this makes me smile, its set-in stone now so we have to.

I sincerely hope that World Civet Day becomes an annual fixture, a day for people

and organisations across the world to champion the underdogs. A day to raise

awareness of conservation issues such as civet coffee and civetone (the musk taken

from African civets that’s still used in some perfumes). A day for zoos, conservation

organisations, researchers and the public to come together and celebrate a beautiful

but so understudied group of animals.

Author bio:

Zak Showell is the Director of Shaldon Wildlife Trust, a small BIAZA and EAZA member zoo, based in Shaldon, Devon, England. With over 14 years’ experience in the zoo industry he is involved in many BIAZA committees and runs four EAZA breeding programmes including the Owston’s civet breeding programme.

How you can help

You can help civets by spreading awareness and supporting our research. You can:

  • Share this article to raise awareness of civets 

  • Follow us on social media (instagram, facebook, LinkedIn)

  • Donate to support our research and outreach activities 

  • Watch our documentary 

  • Sign up to our mailing list to receive monthly updates on all things civets 

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