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Little-seen nocturnal animals can be glimpsed at the Taiping Zoo

Saturday August 16, 2008
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Many of the country’s little-seen nocturnal animals can be glimpsed at the Taiping Zoo in Perak. Naturally, you’ll want to visit after sunset.

At night, if you are driving along a road that runs through a forested area, oil palm estate or fruit orchard, your headlights may reveal an eye-shine.

Those two spots of light in the murky darkness may well be the reflection of a mammal’s pair of eyes. It would be wise to slow down or even prepare to stop.

You wouldn’t want to ram into half a ton of beef!
The flat-headed cat is a Taiping Zoo resident

Straying black water buffaloes are almost invisible at night, even in the headlights of a vehicle. And meeting an elephant at night is not uncommon along the East-West highway, especially on the Grik to Jeli stretch. By slowing down, you would be able to prevent injury to yourself or any animal that may have wandered onto the road. Common road kills are cats and dogs, nocturnal creatures like civet cats, and even the tapir.

Those who are more adventurous may want to use a flashlight to look for the owner of the eye-shine. Don’t forget to look up surrounding trees because civet cats have a habit of climbing the nearest tree for safety when threatened.

Most of the wild mammals of Malaysia, except the primates, are nocturnal animals. The chances of encountering any big mammals along our roads are slim except maybe near Grik.

Small mammals are easier to spot, and these include the Common Palm Civet and Leopard Cat. Rarer encounters would be the Small-toothed Civet, Large Indian Civet and the Malay Civet. All these mammals are not common and very shy. Many Malaysians would not have seen them in the wild.

Breeding small mammals

Malaysia has a good number of civet and other wild cats, some rarely seen even by animal lovers who actively look for them at night. This is where the latest project undertaken by our local zoos comes in.

The Taiping Zoo, in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and Nature Parks (Perhilitan), members of the Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (Mazpa) and Singapore Zoo have initiated the “Small Mammals Breeding Programme” in 2008.

“The reason for breeding them is to study and gather more information, for example, on their breeding season, gestation period, number of young in the litter and weaning period, all of which are presently not available. The programme will also give the public a chance to see these uncommon mammals which are active only at night,” explains Taiping Zoo director, Dr Kevin Lazarus.

The animals on their list are the Banded Linsang, Banded Palm Civet, Masked Palm Civet, Large Indian Civet, Golden Cat and the Flat-headed Cat.
Banded civet. - CHAN AH LAK

Animals are exchanged among the zoos to get mating pairs. If captive animals are given adequate nutrition and a suitable environment, the chances of them breeding will be good. To achieve this, the enclosures in Taiping Zoo are designed to give the animals plenty of room to move around. They are built with minimal cuts to existing trees.

The cage “furniture” is important to simulate an environment as natural as possible. The original trees are incorporated in the design of the display as far as possible.

Strategically placed logs on the tree branches provide a walkway and a resting place. Hollow logs placed in the Golden Cat and Flat-headed Cat enclosures are favourite spots for them to sleep in.

Day visitors will not see these nocturnal animals moving around the cage. This has led to complaints by ignorant visitors that some cages are empty, but if you look carefully into the hollow logs, you can see the animals sleeping inside.

Nest boxes are provided for the Linsang and Banded Civet cats. The boxes have glass fronts so that the sleeping occupants can be seen by day visitors. Some enclosures have large glass fronts too, like those of the Large Indian Civet and Golden Cat.
A common palm civet. - CHAN AH LAK

Night safari

The best time to see these animals would be at night when they are most active. To this end, Taiping Zoo started the first Night Safari in Malaysia on June 15, 2003. The animals are fed only at night. The zoo keepers stimulate the animals by hiding food on the branches of the trees in the enclosure so the animals have to “hunt” for their dinner.

Visitors will get to see more as they more on foot quietly from cage to cage, rather than taking the zoo tram. The lighting is subdued but of sufficient intensity to allow the animals to be seen without causing undue stress to them.

Do watch out for the leopard cat, which is beautifully marked like its namesake. At least a dozen of them can be seen. Just look carefully behind the walls of the Bearcat and Orangutan enclosures at night.

The leopard cat is not in this breeding programme because they are breeding quite frequently in the Taiping Zoo. A wild Common Palm Civet can be seen roaming the zoo grounds at night, often stealing the fruits given to the other animals.

To date, the Banded Linsang has produced one offspring but unfortunately, it died soon after birth. One female of the two pairs of Golden Cat is pregnant, so it is a good sign that this new breeding programme is taking off.

Hopefully in the next few years, the public will have the chance to see more of these beautiful small animals of the night.

o Taiping Zoo visiting hours: 8.30am-6pm (last entry). Adults RM5, Children RM3. Night Safari: 8pm-11pm, extended to12am on Saturdays and eve of public holidays. Adults RM10, Children RM6. Group discounts are available on official request.

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