SDSU researchers need help locating civet cats

Have you seen a civet cat lately?

Whether it’s an in-person sighting, video from a game camera or even roadkill, South Dakota State University doctoral student Kara White wants to know where and when.

Kara White holding a civet cat
Doctoral student Kara White captures a civet cat before the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed fieldwork on a South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks-funded project to determine how the species is doing in South Dakota and to better understand its habitat.

She and assistant professor Rob Lonsinger of the Department of Natural Resource Management are gathering information on the Eastern spotted skunk, commonly known as a civet or pole cat, to determine how the species is doing in South Dakota and to better understand its habitat. The four-year project, which began in January, is supported by a South Dakota Game Fish and Parks grant.

Civet cats have multiple white markings and are much smaller—from 1.5 to 3 pounds—than the more common striped skunk, Lonsinger explained. These nocturnal animals tend to live in brushy areas, typically along fence lines and around hay bales or wood piles, as well as in forests and woody areas. They eat insects, rodents and small mammals and are, themselves, prey for owls.

“I am looking for any kind of sighting—living or dead, past or present,” White said. The locations will be used to create a species distribution map.

“The more precise the location, the better; but generally, we will follow up and get more details,” Lonsinger said. “We would rather have the information, even if it is not 100% precise, than not to have the information at all.”

Those who wish to report a sighting can call White at 605-651-0978 and leave a message or email her at southdakotaspottedskunks@gmail.com. She will be gathering information through the end of the year. Sightings can also be recorded at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/south-dakota-minnesota-spotted-skunks.

“We honestly believe the civet cat is doing OK in South Dakota, so part of the motivation is to demonstrate that they likely do not need to be listed as an endangered species,” Lonsinger said.

Little is known about spotted skunks in the Midwest, White pointed out. “It’s one of those overlooked species that people take for granted, so it’s exciting to fill in those knowledge gaps.”

In addition to broad-scale mapping, White and Lonsinger will conduct two seasons of fieldwork, trapping civet cats in Faulk and Hand County and using radio collars to track their movements. “We know there is a strong population because researchers working on a different project have incidentally captured a fair number of civet cats there,” Lonsinger explained. This research will help wildlife officials manage these populations.