The African Civet (Civettictis civetta) has been described by Kingdon (1997) as "a shaggy, low-slung, dog-like animal with an ornate pattern of bands and blotches on body and tail, black limbs and a boldly marked face mask with pale forehead, white muzzle, and black eye patches." This is the largest terrestrial civet, weighing up to 20 kg, with a coarse coat and an erectile crest. The skull is heavily built, with well developed crests (especially in males), short and powerful canines, and well developed carnassials (the 4th upper premolars and the first lower molars) which are adapted to cutting through flesh with a scissor-like action. As is the case for other viverrids, both sexes have a perianal scent glant between the anus and the genitals which produces a very odorous substance known as "civet". In the African Civet this gland is visible as two large swellings, each around 30 mm long and 19 mm wide. Landmarks in territories are scent-marked with secretions from these large perianal glands. Quite independently, African Civets make very conspicuous dung middens known as "civettries" that are strongly scented with anal gland secretions. African Civets are generally solitary and normally silent, but growl deeply and cough explosively if threatened.
African Civets are found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa but are absent from South Africa (except for the Transvaal region in the northeastern part of the country), Namibia, Eritrea, and drier areas of the Horn. They are most abundant in forested or partly forested mosaics and in cultivated and marshy areas. They occur in dry, open country where dense cover grows along watercourses, around stone outcrops, and in broken gullied land. African Civets may be found up to around 1700 m elevation.
These mainly nocturnal civets are omnivorous, feeding on vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants (mainly roots, shoots, and fruits), including grass. They are able to feed on poisonous fruits such as Strychnos, distasteful insects such as the pyrgomorphid grasshoppers known as stink locusts (Zonoceras), millipedes, and dangerous snakes. They can fast for up to 2 weeks when food is scarce.
The copious flow of secretions from African Civet perianal glands has been harvested from captive specimens as "civetone", a floral scent fixative. Civets are apparently not bred on the civet farms maintained for this purpose so new animals are captured in the wild to replace those that die.
African Civets are widepread and common in spite of very frequent road kills and hunting for bushmeat and for their skins.
(Kingdon 1997; Jennings and Veron 2009 and references therein)
- Jennings, A.P. and G. Veron. 2009. Viverridae (Civets, Genets, and Oyans). Pp. 174-232 in: Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2. Hoofed Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press, San Diego, California.
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