All about the African civet

Kruger National Park | March 2016

African civets (Civettictis civetta) fall under the Viverridae family and are closely related to cats, although they are not true cats. They are considered to be carnivores in the Order Carnivora, although the African civet tends to be more omnivorous, feeding on a wide range of things including fruit, roots, shoots, many invertebrates and smaller vertebrates (usually up to the size of scrub hares or large birds, which they bite and shake vigorously to kill them). They are able to digest things that are poisonous to most other creatures, including fruit from the Strychnos family and even millipedes (shongololos). Their distinctive middens or toilet sites often contain the shells of millipedes and they tend to mark their territories regularly, pasting and spraying at specific sites.

The scent of these pastings is said to hold its smell for prolonged periods after the civet has left the area. African civets have very large perineal glands and historically people used to harvest the secretion from these glands for use as a fixative for floral perfumes. Nowadays artificial fixatives are used. Imagine what women might have thought if they had suddenly realized that they were spraying secretions from the anal area of a civet on themselves! Fortunately the practise of civet farming for anal gland secretions is pretty much obsolete now. Sadly nowadays Asian palm civets are being bred, caged and force-fed coffee fruit as it is said that the seeds of coffee that have passed through the digestive tract before being roasted are a delicacy and these coffee beans are sold at extremely high prices (up to €550 / US$700 per kilogram – Wikipedia). This coffee is often referred to as “Kopi luwak”. This industry has resulted in many animals being treated horribly and should not be supported.

African civets tend to be nocturnal and we see them fairly regularly on our night drives at Singita Lebombo/Sweni. They are usually seen walking around alone with their heads stooped low. During the day they hide in caves, thick bushes and other hidden places in the bushveld. They have a beautiful coat with an ornate pattern of stripes and blotches, which is very good camouflage. They look like they are wearing bandits’ masks on their faces. They are fairly large and can weigh up to 20 kg and have a shoulder height of up to 40 cm. They have a gestation period of 2 to 2.5 months and can give birth to up to four kittens, which grow up very quickly and behave like adults within six months. They can live for up to twenty years.