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.
Civettictis civetta, the African civet, inhabits the savannahs and the forests of southern and central Africa. The African civet is rarely found in arid regions; however, it can be found along river systems that project into the arid areas of Niger, Mali, and Chad. (Ray 1995).
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
Civettictis civetta has many unmistakable features, including large hindquarters, a low-head stance, and short (approximately 1-4 inch) mane which extends down its back. This mane becomes erect when the animal is excited or scared, making it look larger. Individual civets are recognized by the details of their dark face masks, which resemble those of a raccoon, and also white neck stripes. Their bodies are silver or cream in color with brownish black markings and spots. The body length is 24 to 36 inches, with a 17 to 24 inch tail. Unlike the digital and palmar pads, the civets central pads possess no hair. This Civet has five digits with long, non-retractable claws. They have large, broad molars suitable for crushing and grinding. The dental formula is 3/3, 1/1, 4/4, 2/2= 40.(Ray 1995, Animal Breeder 1999, Schliemann 1990).
Range mass: 12 to 15 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
- Ray, J. 1995. Civettictis civetta.. Mammalian Speicies, 488: 1-7.
- Schliemann, H. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol III.. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing.
Habitat and Ecology
African civets live both in the forest and in open country, but they seem to require a covering of tall grasses or thicket to provide safety in the daytime. They rarely can be found in arid regions of Africa. Instead, they are usually found close to permanent water systems. (Ray 1995)
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest
Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams
C. civetta is omnivorous. It consumes mainly wild fruit, carrion, rodents, insects (crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and termites), eggs, reptile, and birds. The African civet is able to eat items that are usually poisnous or distasteful to most mammals, including the fruit of Stychnos, millipedes, and highly-decayed carrion. Civets do not use their paws for catching prey; instead, they overpower the prey with their teeth. Civets display various hunting behaviors. The prey may be shaken so violently that the spinal column is broken or a rodent may be bitten and thrown around. (Animal Breeders 1999, Richardson and Levitan 1994, Schliemann 1990)
Life History and Behavior
Status: wild: 15.0 years.
Status: captivity: 28.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The average lifespan of the African civet is 15 to 20 years. There is no favored breeding season in West Africa. The breeding season in Kenya and Tanzania occurs in March through October. In southern Africa, breeding occurs in the warm, wet summer months from August to January, when there are a large number of insects. Captive females first give birth at about 1 year of age. Females are polyestrous and are able to have two or three litters a year. There are usually 1 to 4 young in a litter. Mothers have six nipples to feed their young.
Young civets are born in advanced stages relative to most carnivores. They are fully furred, although the fur is darker, shorter, and softer than adult fur. Their markings are more poorly defined than those of adults. Young are able to crawl at birth, and the hind legs support the body by the 5th day. They start leaving the nest between 17-18 days, and the first sign of play behavior is seen at about 2 weeks. The young are completely dependent on mother's milk for about 6 weeks. After about 42 days, their mother provides them solid food. By the second month, they are catching food for themselves. The behavior of mouth suckling, in which the young licks their mother's mouth and drink her saliva, is seen just before the mother begins to provide the young with solid food.
The mother transports the young in her mouth, clasping them by the back or by the neck. Captive mothers sometimes kill and devour their young at birth. (Animal Breeder 1999, Ray 1995, Schliemann 1990)
Average birth mass: 380.5 g.
Average gestation period: 65 days.
Average number of offspring: 2.5.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 213 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 365 days.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix iii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Civets are a nuisance to farmers because they forage in the henhouses and even kill lambs.(Schliemann 1990)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
In the past, the African civets were often kept cruelly for the secretions of their perineal glands. The secretion, called civet, when highly diluted could make a pleasant perfume. For many centuries, the civet played an important economical role in the economy of Europe, North Africa, and near the Middle East. The trade for civet musk has decreased remarkably. However, in 1988, it was reported that over 2,700 captive civets in Ethiopia were producing the musk. The civet musk, mainly exported to France was selling for $438 per kg. (Nowak 1999)
The African civet (//; Civettictis civetta) is the largest representative of the African Viverridae. It is the sole member of its genus. African civets can be found from coast to coast across sub-Saharan Africa. They are primarily nocturnal and spend the day sleeping in dense vegetation. During the night, when they are the most active, they can be found in a wide variety of habitat consisting of thick forest to open country. The African civet is a solitary mammal that is easily recognizable by its unique coloration; the black and white stripes and blotches covering the coarse pelage of the animal are extremely variable and allow it to be cryptic. The black bands surrounding the African civet’s eyes closely resemble those of the raccoon. Other distinguishing features of the African civet are its disproportionately large hindquarters and its erectile dorsal crest.
The African civet is an omnivorous generalist, taking small vertebrates, invertebrates, eggs, carrion, and vegetable matter. It is capable of taking on poisonous invertebrates (such as the millipedes most other species avoid) and snakes. Prey is primarily detected by smell and sound rather than by sight.
Like all civets it has perineal glands that produce a fluid known as civetone, which it spreads on markers in its territory to claim its range. Used in the perfume industry, "civet" was originally the name for the scent obtained from this species: Middle French civette, from Old Italian zibetto, from Arabic zabAd, civet perfume.
Among the extant viverrid family, only the binturong matches or exceeds the African civet in size. While females are sometimes credited as slightly larger, there are no great discernible differences in measurements between sexes. Weight can range from 7 to 20 kg (15 to 44 lb), with an average mass of about 12.5 kg (28 lb). Head-and-body length is 67 to 84 cm (26 to 33 in), while the tail is 34 to 47 cm (13 to 19 in) and shoulder height averages 40 cm (16 in). Civettictis civetta is a stocky animal with a long body and appears short-legged for its size although its hind limbs are noticeably larger and more powerful. It has a short broad neck, a pointed muzzle, small rounded ears, small eyes and a long bushy tail.
The African civet has five digits per manus in which the first toe is slightly set back from the others. The African civet has long, curved, semi-retractile claws. Its feet are compact and unsuitable for digging or climbing and the soles of the feet are hairless. African Civets have a modified synapsid skull which is heavy-built and is the longest of any viverrid. The zygomatic arch is robust and provides a large area for attachment of the masseter muscle. The skull also has a well-developed sagittal crest which provides a large area for attachment of the temporalis muscle. This musculature and the African civet’s strong mandible give it a powerful bite oriented to its omnivorous diet. African civets have a total of forty teeth and a dental formula of 3/3, 1/1, 4/4, 2/2.
Like many mammals, the African civet has two types of fur - under fur and guard hairs. The pelage of the African civet is coarse and wiry. The coat is unique to each individual, just like a human fingerprint. The dorsal base color of the fur varies from white to creamy yellow to reddish. The stripes, spots, and blotches which cover the animal are deep brown to black in coloration. Horizontal lines are prominent on the hind limbs, spots are normally present on the midsection of the animal and fade anteriorly into vertical stripes above the forelimbs. The tail of the African civet is black with a few white bands and the paws are completely black. The head, neck and ears are clearly marked. A black band stretches across its eyes like that of a raccoon and the coloration of its neck is referred to as a double collar because of the two black neck bands.
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. 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.
The perineal gland is what this species of civet is well known for and Civettictis civetta has historically been the species most often harvested for it. This gland secretes a white or yellow waxy substance called civet, which is used by civets for marking territory and by humans as a perfume base. Perineal and anal glands are found in both male and female African civets, however, the glands are bigger in males, which can produce a stronger secretion. The perineal glands are located between the scrotum and the prepuce in males and between the anus and the vulva in females.
Civettictis is derived from the French civette and the Greek ictis, meaning weasel. Civette came from the Arabic zabat used to describe the scent emitted from the perineal glands. African civets are commonly referred to as civet cats, which is misleading since African Civets are not members of the cat family.
The perineal gland secretion has been the basic ingredient for many perfumes for hundreds of years and is still being used today although on the decline since the creation of synthetic musk. African civets have been kept in captivity and milked for their civet which is diluted into perfumes. They can secrete three to four grams of civet per week and it can be sold for just under five hundred dollars per kilogram. The WSPA says that Chanel, Cartier, and Lancôme have all admitted to using civet in their products and that laboratory tests detected the ingredient in Chanel No. 5.
The average lifespan of an African civet is fifteen to twenty years. Mating occurs in the warm and wet summer months from August to January. This time is favored because of the large populations of insects. Females create a nest which is normally in dense vegetation and commonly in a hole dug by another animal.
Females are polyestrous and can have up to three litters per year. Female African civets normally give birth to one to four young. The young are born in advanced stages compared to most carnivores. They are covered in a dark, short fur and can crawl at birth. The young leave the nest after eighteen days but are still dependent on the mother for milk and protection for another two months.
- Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M., eds. (2005). "Civettictis civetta". Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
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- Ray, Justina C. "Mammalian Species: Civettictis Civetta." The American Society of Mammalogists(1995): 1-7. Print.
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