The masked palm civet or gem-faced civet (Paguma larvata), known in Japanese as "hakubishin," first gained notice in Japan in the 1940s. They are widely distributed, proliferating mostly in the central to southern parts of Tohoku, Shizuoka Prefecture and in Shikoku.
Tokyo Shimbun (Oct 2) reports that while "hakubishin" were rarely seen in the Tokyo metropolis before the 2000, they are now becoming common. In 2014, no fewer than 715 were trapped. City authorities frequently receive calls complaining that "One ate the fruit in my garden" or "One invaded my house and made a mess."
"At first I thought the problem might be rats, or a cat, so I was really surprised to find one in the city," Shigemi Ichikawa, a 72-year-old resident of Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, told the newspaper. A commercial exterminator caught two civets in the inner garden of Ichikawa's condominium. The operator of a beauty salon on the first floor of the same building heard noises emanating from the ceiling, and they later entered the salon and ransacked the premises.
The article is accompanied by a photo of two of the nocturnal creatures scampering over power lines in a residential part of Shibuya Ward.
According to a representative of the Japan Pest Control Association, customer requests to remove the civets have increased year-on-year, with 1,303 in 2015. About half of the requests were from people in Tokyo.
"We aren't sure why, but more of them are spreading from their usual habitats in mountainous areas and coming to cities. This may be due to empty residences providing them with more places to hide," a spokesperson for the association said.
According to the Tokyo Environment Bureau, the number of civets spotted in the prefecture began increasing about a decade ago, and 2014 set a new record with 715 trapped. The number caught in the 23 central wards, 201, were nearly double that of the rural Tama district.
Takumi Miyamoto, who collects animal-related data, estimates that Tokyo's 23 central wards are home to between 1,100 to 1,800 civets.
"Tokyo has lots of wood-frame houses that offer crevices, and surprisingly plenty of gardens with fruit-bearing trees," Miyamoto says. "With a place to propagate and food source, they probably find it quite hospitable."
Historical records from the Edo era (1600-1868) describe a creature called "Raiju," which appears similar to the "hakubishin," so it's difficult to ascertain whether the animal is an invasive species or native to the Japanese archipelago. Reports of damage from Kansai tend to be fewer, as badgers predominate there.
The civets are said to particularly like persimmons and "biwa" (loquats). To protect themselves from predators, they spray a foul odor similar to that of skunks. They have also been known to bite humans.
A primary concern is that they may carry disease. In addition to carrying fleas and ticks, the handling or consumption of civets' meat at animal markets in southern China is suspected of having caused the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003. Currently, Shibuya and 12 other Tokyo wards have made arrangements with pest control specialists to eradicate them. Last year, Bunkyo Ward held an orientation to advise residents on how to prevent infestations.
Should you encounter one, the article says do not offer food. Block vents located close to greenery or under buildings to prevent their entry. (They can access crevices as small as five centimeters in diameter.) It is also a good idea to prune tree branches to keep civets from climbing them to gain access to a house. Fruits should be harvested early or netting used to cover the trees. Also, don't set out dishes of dog or cat food where they can find it and don't leave out rubbish.© Japan Today