Was a Rare Malabar Civet Spotted in India During the Coronavirus Lockdown?

This video (see below-attached tweet) claiming that the animal spotted on the streets of India is a Malabar civet, a critically endangered mammal not seen since 1990, was shared on Twitter on Saturday, March 28th and immediately went viral.  Blogs picked up on the same narrative further fanning the spread of the news online and offline.


On March 24th, the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days as a preventive measure towards curbing the spread of COVID-19. The number of confirmed cases in the country are, as of the time of writing this, 1,071 with 29 deaths and 100 recoveries (see our live tracker for up to date numbers).

Civets are common in India. They are long-bodied, short-legged carnivores of the family Viverridae. There are about 15 to 20 species found in Africa, Southern Europe and Asia. They are cat-like in appearance; have a thickly furred tail, small ears and a pointed snout. The colouration varies widely among the species but commonly is buff or greyish with a pattern of black spots or stripes or both.

They produce a strong-smelling secretion, which is highly valued as a fragrance and stabilizing agent for perfume. They are also hunted and sold for meat in parts of China. In 2002-2003, this resulted in a viral outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) that killed 774 people. It was discovered that a sale of civets that were sold at local markets in Yunnan province of China, carried the SARS virus from horseshoe bats to humans.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, Red List of threatened species, lists several civets in danger of extinction; among these is the Malabar civet (Viverra civettina), which lives in the Western Ghats of India. Its population is estimated to a number fewer than 250, making it very rare to spot.

There has been no photographic record of the Malabar civet during surveys carried out between 1990 and 2014 in the South-Western region of India where they were commonly found.


Searches using video and image verification tools show the video doesn’t appear anywhere on the Internet before March 26, 2020, meaning it is genuine.

However, wildlife photographer, Kaylan Varma and Parveen Kaswan, a member of the India Forest Service, have since confirmed that the animal is, in fact, a common small Indian civet and not the endangered Malabar civet as per the claims.

According to IUCN, the small Indian civet is listed as least concern due to its widespread distribution and healthy population.


This is a case of misidentification, as the animal spotted in India during the lockdown, is not the endangered Malabar civet, making the claim FALSE.

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