Rare baby Civet kitten born in Cornwall

24 May 2019, 15:19 | Updated: 24 May 2019, 15:29

A zoo keeper at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall is hand-rearing a very rare but beautiful jungle mammal.

The female Owston’s civet was born in early April. 

Head Keeper Dave Rich has put his life on hold since then to care for the youngster. 

He’s an experienced animal professional, but that doesn’t make him impervious to her considerable charms – far from it. “She’s incredibly cute!”.

It’s likely that Dave’s quick actions saved her life shortly after she was born. 

Mother Nam started to go into labour the very day that Newquay Zoo Curator John Meek returned from a key civet conference in Vietnam. 

When Dave checked in on Nam first thing in the morning, he found she had given birth to triplets, though sadly two were stillborn.

“They were all wet and Nam was not tending to them, so I caught them all up in my jumper, after-birth and all, and got them to the vet, but only one was alive.”

They got the surviving new-born warm and fed – and she’s been part of Dave’s life ever since. 

The first few days are always uncertain, and she has been back to the vet a couple of times, but she seems to be out of the woods: “She is important to the future of her species, we couldn’t risk losing her.” She goes home with him and stays with him on his day off, though “day off” is a bit of a misnomer right now…

The Cornish charity zoo is a leading authority on the Owston’s civet. It’s home to more of this Endangered species than any other collection in Europe, with 5, plus the new arrival. There are currently just 17 adults in zoos and sanctuaries globally - 10 in Europe and 7 in Vietnam. 

No one really knows how many there are in the wild, but it’s fair to say that there are not enough.

Newquay Zoo was the last zoo to breed civets, and that was three years ago. In the UK, only Newquay Zoo, Shaldon Wildlife Trust in Devon, Port Lympne in Kent and Thrigby Hall in Norfolk have them.

The civet kitten is on Royal Canin Babycat Milk, warmed to body temperature and fed to her from a very small bottle. At first she took 2ml at each feed every 1.5 to 2 hours. She is now happily guzzling 10ml per feed, every 4 hours. 

Dave: “She has a very quirky little routine – she’s far too busy wanting to make noise, explore and wrestle with the bottle for the first two attempts and then almost every time takes the bottle on the third try and guzzles the lot!”

She travels in style, in a small portable brooder kept at 28 to 30 degrees centigrade. Dave: “It’s getting heavier by the day!” She makes a lot of squeaks and sniffing noises (coupled with the occasional burp after a good feed). 

Her calls are a combination of craving for food, eagerness to explore and desperation to communicate. “She lets you know when she’s not impressed with having her bum wiped!”

She was 115 grams when she was born on 15th April. At day 18 she weighed 178 grams. 

Other than a little trouble with constipation, she’s strong and lively, sleeping between feeds but very active at feeds. “Her eyes are just starting to open now.”

If Dave is successful, it’ll be a world first – no one has ever hand reared an Owston ‘s civet to adulthood. 

As he says, no pressure… Newquay Zoo has five Owston’s civets, Con Trai, Quy, Dong Ha, mother Nam and father Bao. 

This charismatic nocturnal small carnivore is native to Vietnam and the surrounding region. 

It’s listed as Endangered by conservationists as the population continues to decline in the wild.