Thursday, June 11, 2009

A full cycle

Those with very little grounding in biology will know and appreciate the complex interrelationship between organisms known as the food chain. It is this chain of relationships which links organisms; it enables energy flow and nutrient cycle to go through the system before ending as nutrients in its abode- soil, longer the chain, more the benefactors. One such chain I witnessed was that of a carcass of a Brown palm civet, possibly killed by a Leopard and hidden in dried leaf litter on a trail in Kodayar.
After a quick lunch, myself and Muthu my assistant were in search of more trees to climb and while on the move, I came across a patch of leaves looking a bit offset from the surroundings, instinct told me all was not well in that place and on clearing the leaves, I saw a half eaten carcass of a civet. The sight, just after lunch was not very pleasing I would say, but the knowledge of the interactions we gained through the sighting far exceeded the gory sight. The civet though only about ten percent in mass compared to the leopard seemed to be a good source of nutrition to many creatures from insects to the leopard itself and must be one of the reasons why the cat had taken the trouble of hiding it. As soon as the leaves were removed a swarm of a few hundred flies took off from it only to settle back in a moments time, on closer look, about 70% of the civet was eaten and all that was left was the head, the front left leg, hide of the back and the long tail. Civets, when alive are nocturnal and mostly arboreal, feeding on fruits and insects but when dead, insects quickly take up the opportunity to devour them as if to seek revenge on their kin’s death.
The kill seemed to have been made in the wee hours of the day had attracted many flies, which had quite effectively laid eggs on the mortal remains there by ensuring that the maggots don’t go hungry. Having felt that the cycle starting with a fruiting tree, going through the civet, and ending up with the soil as the insects feeding on them eventually die was complete, I quickly took some pictures of the carcass, the head, the foot, the tail and also took some hair from the body as it can be used as a reference when and if a diet analysis of carnivore scats is undertaken to know what others feed on civets, and tried to cover it up as it was hoping the leopard would come and finish what was left. After a week, while on the trail, I did not find any hint of the civet or that of the cat.


  1. Been enjoying your posts! Thanks for all the different reports...I didn't know that food was hidden like that!

  2. Wish you could have installed a camera trap near the dead civet to see if the leopard came back....