Civet is the common name for various, small, cat-like mammals in the family Viverridae.
Also commonly called civet cats, civets are not cats. In fact, they are more closely related to mongooses than they are to cats.
There are about 20 species of civets.
They are native to sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, southwest corner of Europe, southern China, South and Southeast Asia.
Civets are found in woodland, rainforest, savanna, and mountain habitats.
The average lifespan of civets is about 15 to 20 years.
Length ranges from about 40 to 85 cm (16 to 34 inches), with the tail accounting for another 13 to 66 cm (5 to 26 inches), and weight ranges from 1.5 to 11 kg (3.3 to 24 pounds).
They are characterized by a long, lithe body with relatively short legs, a long, pointed muzzle, and relatively short ears.
The coloration varies widely among the species but commonly is buff or grayish with a pattern of black spots or stripes or both.
Civets are usually solitary and live in tree hollows, among rocks, and in similar places.
These animals are largely nocturnal hunters and arboreal. Meaning they sleep during the day and spend most of their time in trees.
Civets are omnivorous supplementing a diet of small vertebrates (rats, squirrels, small birds, lizards), and insects and other invertebrates (worms, crustaceans, mollusks), both hunted and scavenged, with fruit, eggs, and possibly roots.
Very little is known about civets’ mating habits. Most species breed year round, producing litters of 1 to 6 fully-furred babies after a gestation period of 60 to 81 days. Some species may have 2 litters per year.
The best-known civet species is the African civet, Civettictis civetta, which historically has been the main species from which was obtained a musky scent used in perfumery.
Some species of civet are very rare and elusive and hardly anything is known about them, e.g., the Hose’s civet, endemic to the montane forests of northern Borneo, is one of the world’s least known carnivores.
Animal rights groups, such as World Animal Protection, express concern that harvesting musk is cruel to animals. Between these ethical concerns and the availability of synthetic substitutes, the practice of raising civets for musk is dying out. Chanel, maker of the popular perfume Chanel No. 5, claims that natural civet has been replaced with a synthetic substitute since 1998.
Kopi Luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee. It is prepared using coffee cherries that have been eaten and partly digested by the Asian palm civet, then harvested from its fecal matter. The civets digest the flesh of the coffee cherries but pass the pits (beans) inside, where stomach enzymes affect the beans, which adds to the coffee’s prized aroma and flavor. 450 grams (1 pound) can cost up to $600 in some parts of the world and about $100 a cup in others.