The African Civet (Civettictis civetta)

Kruger National Park | September 2017

The African civet is the largest representative of the African Viverrids and can weigh up to 13 kg. They have beautiful patterned skins, with dark-coloured stripes, spots and blotches. The hind limbs usually have dark horizontal lines, whereas the mid-section is covered with spots and blotches and the forelimbs often have vertical stripes. The tail is slightly bushy and has black bands with a black tip. The face is boldly marked and has a black mask around the eyes, much like a raccoon. Civets have a crest of hair along their backs which they raise when excited or threatened and which causes the animal to look much larger.

Although African civets are carnivores they do also eat fruit. Prey species include insects, rodents, birds, reptiles (such as lizards and snakes, frogs, fish, scorpions and other invertebrates and, on occasion, carrion. Civets are known to also eat millipedes. These invertebrates are not eaten by many other animals as they are considered poisonous to most other creatures and contain chemical compounds such as various toxic alkaloids and hydrogen cyanide. When civets catch larger mammals, such as hares, they often grab it with their teeth and give it a violent shake, throwing it to the side to avoid getting bitten by the prey. They then rush forward and grab it again and repeat the action until the prey is subdued.

The average lifespan of an African civet is fifteen to twenty years. They are pregnant for two months (60 -65 days) and usually give birth to 1 – 4 kittens, which are hidden in hollow logs or thick bushes. The kittens are weaned at approximately 2 – 5 months old.

Civets are usually solitary animals and are quite territorial, utilizing middens (toilet areas). These middens are often easily recognized due to the large size of the droppings and the presence of millipede exoskeletons. Civets also mark their territories by way of anal / perineal pastings. These pastings can retain their smell for weeks or even months. The perineal gland secretion (also known as civetone) used to be used as an ingredient in many perfumes in the past (as a fixative, to keep the scent of the perfume to last longer) and is still being used today, although artificial musks are generally used more often now. Civetone has a strong musky odour that is supposedly unpleasant in high concentrations, but when diluted becomes more pleasant to smell.

Civets are nocturnal and are predominantly active shortly after sunset and before sunrise. Civets are not uncommon in the Singita Kruger Park area and are seen fairly regularly on the night drives.