African civet

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African civet
Civettictis civetta 11.jpg
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Viverridae
Genus: Civettictis
Pocock, 1915
C. civetta
Binomial name
Civettictis civetta
(Schreber, 1776)

C. c. civetta(Schreber, 1776)
C. c. congica Cabrera, 1929
C. c. schwarziCabrera, 1929
C. c. australisLundholm, 1955
C. c. volkmanniLundholm, 1955
C. c. pauliKock, Künzel and Rayaleh, 2000


African Civet area.png
Range of the African civet
Synonyms [2]

The African civet ( /ˈsɪvɪt/ ; Civettictis civetta) [2] is a large viverrid native to sub-Saharan Africa, where it is considered common and widely distributed in woodlands and secondary forests. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List since 2008. In some countries, it is threatened by hunting, and wild-caught individuals are kept for producing civetone for the perfume industry. [1]

The African civet is primarily nocturnal and spends the day sleeping in dense vegetation, but wakes up at sunset. It is a solitary mammal with a unique coloration: the black and white blotches covering its coarse pelage and rings on the tail are an effective cryptic pattern. The black bands surrounding its eyes closely resemble those of the raccoon. Other distinguishing features are its disproportionately large hindquarters and its erectile dorsal crest. It is an omnivorous generalist, preying on small vertebrates, invertebrates, eggs, carrion, and vegetable matter. It is one of the few carnivores capable of eating toxic invertebrates such as termites and millipedes. [3] [4] It detects prey primarily by smell and sound rather than by sight. It is the sole member of its genus. [5]

Taxonomy and evolution

Skull of an African civet Civettictis civetta 05 MWNH 253.jpg
Skull of an African civet

Viverra civetta was the scientific name introduced in 1776 by Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber when he described African civets based on previous descriptions and accounts. [6] Schreber is therefore considered the binomial authority. [2] In 1915, Reginald Innes Pocock described the structural differences between feet of African and large Indian civet (Viverra zibetha) specimens in the zoological collection of the Natural History Museum, London. Because of marked differences, he proposed Civettictis as a new genus, with C. civetta as only species. [7] The following subspecies were proposed in the 20th century:

A 1969 study noted that this civet showed enough differences from the rest of the viverrines in terms of dentition to be classified under its own genus. [11]


A 2006 phylogenetic study showed that the African civet is closely related to the genus Viverra . It was estimated that the Civettictis-Viverra clade diverged from Viverricula around 16.2 Mya; the African civet split from Viverra 12.3 Mya. The authors suggested that the subfamily Viverrinae should be bifurcated into Genettinae ( Poiana and Genetta ) and Viverrinae (Civettictis, Viverra and Viverricula ). The following cladogram is based on this study. [12]

Small Indian civet (Viverricula indica)

African civet (Civettictis civetta)


Large Indian civet (Viverra zibetha)

Large-spotted civet (V. megaspila)

Malayan civet (V. tangalunga)




The generic name Civettictis is a fusion of the French word civette and the Greek word ictis, meaning "weasel". The specific name civetta and the common name "civet" come from the French civette or the Arabic zabād or sinnawr al-zabād ("civet cat"). [13]

Local and indigenous names


Drawing of an African civet AfricanCivet.jpg
Drawing of an African civet
Skeleton of an African civet Die vergleichende Osteologie (1821) Civettictis civetta.jpg
Skeleton of an African civet

The African civet has a coarse and wiry fur that varies in colour from white to creamy yellow to reddish on the back. The stripes, spots, and blotches are deep brown to black. Horizontal lines are prominent on the hind limbs, spots are normally present on its midsection and fade into vertical stripes above the forelimbs. Its muzzle is pointed, ears small and rounded. A black band stretches across its small eyes, and two black bands are around its short broad neck. Following the spine of the animal extending from the neck to the base of the tail is the erectile dorsal crest. The hairs of the erectile crest are longer than those of the rest of the pelage. [5]

The sagittal crest of its skull is well-developed providing a large area for attachment of the temporal muscle. The zygomatic arch is robust and provides a large area for attachment of the masseter muscle. This musculature and its strong mandible give it a powerful bite. Its dental formula is Its black paws are compact with hairless soles, five digits per manus in which the first toe is slightly set back from the others. Its long, curved claws are semi-retractile. Its head-and-body length is 67–84 cm (26–33 in), with a 34–47 cm (13–19 in) long tail and a weight range from 7 to 20 kg (15 to 44 lb). Females are smaller than males. [5] It is the largest viverrid in Africa. [15] Its shoulder height averages 40 cm (16 in).[ citation needed ]

Both male and female have perineal and anal glands, which are bigger in males. [5] The perineal glands are located between the scrotum and the penis in males, and between the anus and the vulva in females. [16]

Distribution and habitat

Head of African civet African civet.jpg
Head of African civet

In Guinea's National Park of Upper Niger, it was recorded during surveys conducted in 1996 to 1997. [17] In Gabon’s Moukalaba-Doudou National Park, it was photographed close to forested areas during a survey in 2012. [18] In Batéké Plateau National Park, it was recorded in gallery forest along the Mpassa River during surveys conducted between June 2014 and May 2015. [19]

In the Republic of Congo, it was recorded in the Western Congolian forest–savanna mosaic of Odzala-Kokoua National Park during surveys in 2007. [20]

In the transboundary DinderAlatash (Sudan and Ethiopia) protected area complex it was recorded during surveys between 2015 and 2018. [21] It is also frequently spotted in Ethiopia's northern Degua Tembien massif. [14]

Behaviour and ecology

African civets deposit their feces in large piles called latrines, or specifically "civetries". [16] [22] The latrines are characterized by fruits, seeds, exoskeletons of insect and millipede rings, and occasionally clumps of grass. [23] The role of civet latrines as a mechanism of seed dispersal and forest regeneration is still being researched. [24] [25]

If an African civet feels threatened, it raises its dorsal crest to make itself look larger and thus more formidable and dangerous to attack. This behavior is a predatory defense. [26]


Research in southeastern Nigeria revealed that the African civet has an omnivorous diet. It feeds on rodents like giant pouched rats (Cricetomys), Temminck's mouse (Mus musculoides), Tullberg's soft-furred mouse (Praomys tulbergi), greater cane rat (Thryonomys swinderianus), typical striped grass mouse (Lemniscomys striatus), amphibians and small reptiles like Hallowell's toad (Amietophrynus maculatus), herald snake ( Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia ), black-necked spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis), common agama (Agama agama), Mabuya skinks, insects such as Orthoptera, Coleoptera as well as eggs, fruits, berries and seeds. [27] Stomach content of three African civets in Botswana included foremost husks of fan palm ( Hyphaene petersiana ) and jackalberry ( Diospyros mespiliformis ), and some remains of African red toad (Schismaderma carens), Acrididae grasshoppers and larvae of Dytiscidae beetles. [28]

Green grass is also frequently found in feces, and this seems to be linked to the eating of snakes and amphibians. [29]


Captive females are polyestrous. [30] Mating lasts 40 to 70 seconds. [16] In Southern Africa, African civets probably mate from October to November, and females give birth in the rainy season between January and February. [28]

The average lifespan of a captive African civets is 15 to 20 years. Females create a nest which is normally in dense vegetation and commonly in a hole dug by another animal. Female African civets normally give birth to one to four young. The young are born in advanced stages compared to most carnivores.[ clarification needed ] They are covered in a dark, short fur and can crawl at birth. The young leave the nest after 18 days but are still dependent on the mother for milk and protection for another two months. [31]


In 2006, it was estimated that about 9,400 African civets are hunted yearly in the Nigerian part and more than 5,800 in the Cameroon part of the Cross-Sanaga-Bioko coastal forests. [32] Skins and skulls of African civets were found in 2007 at the Dantokpa Market in southern Benin, where it was among the most expensive small carnivores. Local hunters considered it a rare species, indicating that the population declined due to hunting for trade as bushmeat. [33]

The African civet has historically been hunted for the secretion of perineal glands. This secretion is a white or yellow waxy substance called civetone, which has been used as a basic ingredient for many perfumes for hundreds of years. [5] In Ethiopia, African civets are hunted alive, and are kept in small cages. Most die within three weeks after capture, most likely due to stress. Extraction of the civetone is cruel and has been criticised by animal rights activists. [34]

Related Research Articles

Viverridae family of mammals

Viverridae is a family of small to medium-sized mammals, the viverrids, comprising 15 genera, which are subdivided into 38 species. This family was named and first described by John Edward Gray in 1821. Viverrids occur all over Africa, southern Europe, and South and Southeast Asia, across the Wallace Line. Their occurrence in Sulawesi and in some of the adjoining islands shows them to be ancient inhabitants of the Old World tropics.

Asian palm civet Species of viverrid

The Asian palm civet is a viverrid native to South and Southeast Asia. Since 2008, it is IUCN Red Listed as Least Concern as it accommodates to a broad range of habitats. It is widely distributed with large populations that in 2008 were thought unlikely to be declining. In Indonesia, it is threatened by poaching and illegal wildlife trade; buyers use it for the increasing production of kopi luwak, a form of coffee that involves ingestion and excretion of the beans by the animal.

African palm civet species of mammal

The African palm civet, also known as the two-spotted palm civet, is a small feliform mammal widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Malabar large-spotted civet species of mammal

The Malabar large-spotted civet, also known as the Malabar civet, is a viverrid endemic to the Western Ghats of India. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List as the population is estimated to number fewer than 250 mature individuals. It has not been recorded during surveys carried out between 1990 and 2014. In the early 1990s, isolated populations still survived in less disturbed areas of South Malabar but were seriously threatened by habitat destruction and hunting outside protected areas.

Small Indian civet Species of mammal

The small Indian civet is a civet native to South and Southeast Asia. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List because of its widespread distribution, widespread habitat use and healthy populations living in agricultural and secondary landscapes of many range states.

Genet (animal) genus of mammals

A genet is a member of the genus Genetta, which consists of 14 to 17 species of small African carnivorans. The common genet is the only genet present in Europe and occurs in the Iberian Peninsula and France.

Egyptian mongoose Species of mammal

The Egyptian mongoose, also known as ichneumon, is a mongoose species native to the Iberian Peninsula, coastal regions along the Mediterranean Sea between North Africa and Turkey, tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands in Africa. Because of its widespread occurrence, it is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Small-toothed palm civet species of mammal

The small-toothed palm civet, also known as the three-striped palm civet, is a palm civet native to dense forests of Southeast Asia, from the Assam district of India to Indochina and the Malay Peninsula and on Sumatra, Bangka, Java, Borneo, and numerous small nearby islands of Indonesia.

Golden palm civet species of mammal

The golden palm civet is a palm civet endemic to Sri Lanka. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Its distribution is severely fragmented, and the extent and quality of its habitat in Sri Lanka's hill regions are declining.

Malayan civet species of mammal

The Malayan civet, also known as the Malay civet and Oriental civet, is a viverrid native to the Malay Peninsula and the islands of Sumatra, Bangka, Borneo, the Riau Archipelago, and the Philippines. It is listed as "Least Concern" by IUCN as it is a relatively widely distributed, appears to be tolerant of degraded habitats, and occurs in a number of protected areas.

Large Indian civet species of mammal

The large Indian civet is a viverrid native to South and Southeast Asia. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. The global population is considered decreasing mainly because of trapping-driven declines in heavily hunted and fragmented areas, notably in China, and the heavy trade as wild meat.

Cape genet species of blotched genet, large-spotted genet, or muskeljaatkat in Afrikaans, a carnivorous mammal related to the African linsang and to the civets

The Cape genet, also known as the South African large-spotted genet, is a genet species endemic to South Africa. As it is common and not threatened, it is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Like other genets, it is nocturnal and arboreal, preferring to live in the riparian zones of forests, as long as these are not marshy areas.

Civet Mammals of the families Viverridae and Nandiniidae

A civet is a small, lean, mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical Asia and Africa, especially the tropical forests. The term civet applies to over a dozen different mammal species. Most of the species diversity is found in southeast Asia. The best-known civet species is the African civet, Civettictis civetta, which historically has been the main species from which a musky scent used in perfumery was obtained. The word civet may also refer to the distinctive musky scent produced by the animals.

Feliformia suborder of mammals in the order Carnivora

Feliformia is a suborder within the order Carnivora consisting of "cat-like" carnivorans, including cats, hyenas, mongooses, viverrids, and related taxa. Feliformia stands in contrast to the other suborder of Carnivora, Caniformia.

Viverrinae subfamily of mammals, the viverrids

The Viverrinae represent the largest subfamily within the Viverridae comprising five genera, which are subdivided into 22 species native to Africa and Southeast Asia. This subfamily was denominated and first described by John Edward Gray in 1864.

Paradoxurinae subfamily of mammals, the viverrids

The Paradoxurinae are a subfamily of the viverrids that was denominated and first described by John Edward Gray in 1864. Pocock subordinated the oriental genera Paradoxurus, Paguma and Arctictis to this subfamily.

Hemigalinae subfamily of mammals, the viverrids

The Hemigalinae are a subfamily of the viverrids denominated and first described by John Edward Gray in 1864. Hemigalinae species are native to Southeast Asia from southern China through Indochina, Malay Peninsula to Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi.

<i>Viverra leakeyi</i> species of mammal (fossil)

Viverra leakeyi, also known as Leakey's civet or the giant civet, is an extinct species of civet. Its fossils have been found in Africa, from Langebaanweg, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the Omo Valley.

Civet, also known as civet musk, is the glandular secretion produced by both sexes of Viverridae species.


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