Fri, May 30, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Government wants to keep track of suspect civets

CNA , TAIPEI

The Council of Agriculture will soon begin a nationwide survey of the population of civets, a rare tree-dwelling mammal which has been cited by Hong Kong epidemiologists as the source of the virus causing SARS.

The masked palm civet, mostly found in central Africa and southern Asia, is a culinary delicacy in southern China, particularly Guangdong province.

According to Lai Chien-hsing (賴建興), director of the council's Forestry Department, masked palm civets are small mammals listed by major international wildlife conservation groups as a species entitled to protection.

The council, nevertheless, dropped domesticated masked palm civets from the official list of protected animals in Taiwan several years ago, on the grounds that raising and slaughtering the animals had no economic value.

The council also maintains no data on the number of domestically raised masked palm civets in Taiwan, how many farms there are or the scale of the farms' operations, Lai said.

He added that as far as he knew, there have been a few farms in central and southern Taiwan which have raised masked palm civets for the purpose of supplying wild animal meat to certain "safari" restaurants.

Small in operational scale, none of those farms have extra civet meat for export, he said.

Huang Kuo-nan (黃國男), formerly a council adviser and an amateur zoologist, said most of Taiwan's civet raisers are centered in the central township of Chichi and southern townships of Paiho and Meinung. The largest farm keeps several thousand animals, while some of the smallest have only a few dozen, he said.

According to Huang, raising masked palm civets requires special skills and he acknowledged that most of the domestic raisers have a certain degree of expertise in keeping the animals healthy, including routine vaccinations.

Huang thus ruled out the possibility of Taiwan's domestically raised masked palm civets being a source of SARS.

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