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Genets Civets and Linsangs: Viverridae

African Civet (civettictis Civetta;): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: The African civet's fur ranges from silvery gray to creamy yellow with black-brown markings arranged in rows. A black mane of hair from the neck to the tail is erected when the civet gets scared or excited, making the animal seem larger. A black mask covers the eyes, with grayish fur above the eyes all the way to the small, round ears. The snout is black, with white on each side. A white stripe bordered by black stripes runs from the neck down to the front of the shoulders. This distinctive feature may serve to direct harmless, playful bites during mock-fighting or mating. The tail is partly ringed with alternating black and lighter colors, with solid black on the bottom half. Black legs and feet have long, curved claws. The perineal glands produce an oily substance called civet that African civets are active at night, feeding mainly on fruits, but also eating some rodents, insects, reptiles, and other meat. (Cyril C. Laubscher. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.) is used in the perfume industry. The civet uses this secretion for scent marking its territory. The body length is 27 to 33 inches (67 to 84 centimeters), and the tail is another 13 to 19 inches (34 to 47 centimeters). The largest of the viverrids, the African civet weighs about 22 to 38 pounds (10 to 17 kilograms).

Geographic range: African civets occur in countries south of the Sahara Desert, including Senegal, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and the island of Zanzibar.

Habitat: African civets prefer woodlands and areas of tall grasses and dense shrubs for resting and cover. Mothers and young nest in tangled roots and burrows (holes) abandoned by other animals.

Diet: African civets are omnivores, feeding on plants and animals. They eat mainly fruits, supplementing them with rodents, insects, reptiles, frogs, birds, crabs, and carrion. They can eat up to 4 pounds (2 kilograms) of food per feeding, but can fast (go without food) for up to two weeks. They sometimes take poultry and lambs in human environments.

Behavior and reproduction: African civets are solitary, except when mating and raising young. They are nocturnal (active at night), sleeping by day in tangled growths of vegetation or in tall grasses. They defend territories, marking boundaries with perineal secretion. Females use this secretion to advertise readiness to mate. Civets also deposit feces in piles, topped with the secretion, for identification and to claim ownership of a territory. Civets communicate through different sounds, including screams, growls, and coughs.

Mating occurs throughout the year. Females give birth two to three times a year, usually to two to three young. Young civets are quite developed when born, having a full coat with faint markings and able to crawl right away. The mother introduces solid food to her young after about a month and a half. Before this event, the young perform a unique behavior called mouth suckling, in which they drink the mother's saliva by licking her mouth. However, they continue nursing up to fourteen to sixteen weeks of age.

African civets and people: For centuries, the perfume industry has used the perineal secretion from African civets, called civet or civet oil, to make fragrances last longer. Although artificial civet oil has been available since the 1940s, some perfumers prefer the real thing. In Ethiopia, civet continues to be extracted from caged animals. African civets are sometimes considered pests for preying on poultry and lambs.

Conservation status: The African civet is not a threatened species. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsGenets Civets and Linsangs: Viverridae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Viverrids And People, Conservation Status, African Civet (civettictis Civetta;): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET