Visiting Night Safari’s new walk-in civets exhibit and two new nocturnal mammals

Keepers of the civet exhibit and South American exhibit share more about the animals’ habitats and behaviours.

Shannon Kuan

Weird talents include playing the violin, but with a ukulele and a clothes hanger.

Published: 10 July 2022, 11:02 PM

Visitors of the Night Safari can now witness and experience the first walk-in civet exhibit and view the debut of two new animal species — the Brazilian Porcupine and Grey-handed Night Monkey.

Opened at the beginning of June this year, the new civet exhibit is nestled in the Leopard Trail. It is home to a total of 14 Common Palm Civets and Small-toothed Palm Civets.

As for the Brazilian Porcupine and Grey-handed Night Monkey, they now reside in the new mixed-species habitat along the Fishing Cat Trail that features small arboreal mammals native to South America, 

Youthopia paid a visit to the Night Safari and spoke to the keepers of each exhibit to gain further insight into these new animals and their habitats. We learnt more from the 27-year-old keeper of the Leopard Trail, Najilah Anifah, as well as 28-year-old keeper of the Fishing Cat Trail, Gladys Lee.

Civet Exhibition

Towering trees and lush flora greet visitors who enter the civets walk-in enclosure. The sound of rushing water can be heard from the small stream running below the low-hanging bridge for visitors to walk across.

Thick vines connect the trees from above, hanging over the bridge and leading from the trees to the civets feeding area near the centre of the exhibit. 

The man-made vines — created to simulate their natural environment — serve as a miniature bridge for the civets to walk across. It also provides a good view of the nocturnal animals in action.

Civets are small, lean, mostly nocturnal mammals native to tropical Asia and Africa. The Common Palm Civets, otherwise known as Asian Palm Civets, are mostly known for kopi luwak — coffee that consists of coffee cherries defecated by the civets.

At Night Safari’s exhibit, there are seven Small-toothed Palm Civets and seven Common Palm Civets.

According to civet keeper Najilah, the two species in the exhibit are distinguishable by both their physical appearance and personalities.


Najilah explains that Common Palm Civets (left) have white markings near their eyes and forehead, while Small-toothed Palm Civets (right) are more slender and have darker black fur. PHOTO CREDIT: MANDAI WILDLIFE GROUP


As for their character traits, Najilah notes that Common Palm Civets are a little more laid back, while Small-toothed Palm Civets are slightly more active.

“If you see them running around the vine and leaping from tree to tree, that’s the Small-toothed Civet. Common Palm Civets are more chill and laid back. After eating, they just rest and like to people-watch,” she says.

All the civets were born and raised in Singapore, but in different sections of the Night Safari. So this exhibit arrangement marks the first time they are all together.

Najilah was already familiar with the Small-toothed Palm Civets as they were originally from the section of the Night Safari she worked at.

Since the Common Palm Civets were from a different section of the Night Safari, it took some time for them to warm up.

“For the Common Palm Civets here, when they first came in, they didn’t trust us. They would stay away. Then slowly, we started feeding them…close to the feeding point, and they came forward. Eventually we could hand-feed them!” shares Najilah.

Now, the civets are well-assimilated and have grown accustomed to a daily routine.

“In the morning…at around 9am, they’re usually always asleep. They’ll be sleeping until around 6.30pm to 7pm. We start feeding them from 8pm to 9pm, and we put out enrichment also, then they’d be active throughout the night,” explains Najilah.


Once the keepers such as Najilah (right) enter the enclosure, the civets begin to slowly come out, playing around and running about once warmed up. PHOTO CREDIT: MANDAI WILDLIFE GROUP


As civets are omnivorous, their diet includes a mix of fruits and meat. 

Najilah says: “Even though they’re omnivorous, they have their own preferences. Common Palm Civets prefer meat, so if you put out fruits and rats, they go for the rats first. For Small-toothed Civets, they go for the fruit first.”

Providing proper enrichment is also an important factor for taking care of the civets there at the Night Safari. The enrichment activities are split up into two types — food-based and sensory-based.

“(For) food-based, we usually stuff the fruit in takraw balls. (It serves as a) puzzle feeder to stimulate them mentally and physically. For sensory base, we use fruit ice blocks. It gives them a different sensation like the cold, which they especially enjoy during sunny days,” says Najilah.

Najilah hopes that visitors will take away the importance of co-existing with wild animals after visiting the civet exhibition at the Night Safari.

She shares: “This enclosure shows the cohabitation between humans and animals. You can encounter civets in housing areas, and sometimes people view them as pests. 

“But we have to understand that we are taking away their homes with our land development. So, we have to learn how to co-exist with them.”

South American exhibit

While the Brazilian Porcupine and Grey-handed Night Monkey may not have a large walk-in exhibit, their enclosure is long and wide enough for them to roam around the elevated tree branches.

Located along Night Safari’s Fishing Cat Trail, the new additions take up residence with a Kinkajou in the new mixed-species habitat featuring small arboreal mammals native to South America.

Visitors can view the pair of Brazilian Porcupines and two Grey-handed Night Monkeys perching on thick leafy branches with the Kinkajou through a large glass separator.


While the public may be more familiar with the typical ground-dwelling porcupine, Brazilian Porcupines have prehensile tails the length of their bodies to help with climbing. PHOTO CREDIT: MANDAI WILDLIFE GROUP


Gladys, one of the keepers of this habitat and primary trainer of the Grey-handed Night Monkeys, shares: “All the species that we have in this new exhibit are arboreal, so you’ll rarely see them on the ground. They are mostly up on trees.

“We put in a lot of branches for them, even dynamic and fun features. Some of them are swinging, so they can dip from place to place where it’s not so boring and static.”

The process of integrating the three different species took a couple of months for Gladys and her team, as they had to make sure that all five animals truly got along before housing them together for public viewing.

“We first got the animals — (the Brazilian Porcupines and Grey-handed Night Monkeys) — from different zoos in Europe. We actually slowly introduced them together species by species, and then subsequently the three species all together,” shares Gladys.

Thankfully, there weren’t many issues with integrating the animals together as all three species are not naturally aggressive in nature.

The keepers first let the animals explore each other’s areas for a start, and were always present to observe them in seeing what they did and how they interacted.


Once the keepers were more comfortable with how the animals were acting, the intermingling duration was extended. PHOTO CREDIT: MANDAI WILDLIFE GROUP


And while the animals do scent mark their territories or areas, Gladys sometimes finds the Kinkajous sniffing out where the Brazilian Porcupines scents are, and vice versa.

She recalls: “Recently, we have seen the Kinkajous and Night Monkeys actually sleeping together in the same nest box! So they seem to be getting along quite fine.”

When it comes to their diets, all three species mostly eat fruits and vegetables in general. However, Gladys and the other keepers do feed the Brazilian Porcupines nuts, such as walnuts.


The Kinkajous are more frugivorous and thus consume more fruits. PHOTO CREDIT: MANDAI WILDLIFE GROUP


Additionally, sometimes the keepers will hang enrichment devices in the exhibit to keep the animals mentally and physically active.

“Apart from the social enrichment aspect, we do give devices that we make, out of repurposed or recycled materials. And then we create a box and hide food in there (for the animals) to get to it,” she states.

With putting in so much effort to ensure the animals are well-taken care of and prepared for public viewing, Gladys hopes the public understands the importance of their visit.

She remarks: “Our Grey-handed Night Monkeys are vulnerable. And also across our parks, we have a lot of species that are threatened in the wild. So your visit is important to us.

“Hopefully, we can inspire you all to take action (to care) for our wildlife… even for our local and native species.”

Tickets to the Night Safari start at $49.50 for adult local residents, and can be purchased from Mandai Wildlife Reserve’s website.

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