The Civet Cat: An Endangered Species That Lives in the Rain Forest
What do coffee, fur coats, and perfume have in common?
Nothing - unless they are kopi luwak, a civet fur coat, and a bottle of Chanel No. 5 bought before 1998, in which case they all came from the civet cat.
Do not be fooled by its cat-like body and deceiving name, the civet cat whose proper name is civet is not a cat at all. It is more closely related to the mongoose family than the feline family. The civet gets a lot of attention because of its unique appearance and traits. It has a weasel-like face and a cat-like body with a raccoon tail. Some of its more unique characteristics have caused the civet to become endangered and at risk for extinction. All this attention isn't necessarily a good thing.
Many people across East Asia and Africa, where the civet lives, hunt these mammals for both their fruit-smelling meat and their fur. Although the hunting did contribute to the civets dwindling number, a SARS epidemic that killed thousands of people, caused the numbers to decrease even more. As the SARS epidemic spread, people wanted to know what was causing the outbreak. Once discovered, these creatures were carrying the disease; they ultimately were blamed for the outbreak. In China, any civet in captivity was immediately killed to stop any possible spread of the disease. It was after this event when the civet became part of the endangered species list.
The Scent Glands Are Used in Perfume
Not only were these animals being killed, but some are also still in captivity, subjected to an excruciating process. Every two to three weeks, civets in captivity have to endure a painful squeeze to their glands to extract fluid from a sac underneath their tail. In the wild, this fluid known as civet, named after the animal itself, is used to mark their territory. It has a powerful musky odor.
It is this musk that they extract in laboratories where is later used in perfumes. They found that this excretion causes the perfume's scent to last much longer.
Channel No. 5 used civet in their perfume until 1998. They decided to switch to a human-made form, for the protection of these animals after that time. Many other companies still use the musk directly from the civet despite the alternatives out there. Many feel awareness needs to be raised to avoid harm done to these animals so that more and more perfume distributors will begin to use the synthetic form. Until all companies switch to the human-made form, this procedure will continue.
If you want to make sure your perfume does not have civet, check the ingredients. If it says synthetic civet, you are right, but if it says civet, then I'd opt out of buying it as that means they are most likely using the excretions from civets held in captivity.
Do you think people should use products made from the musk of a civet?
Kopi Luwak Beans
Kopi Luwak Coffee Is Made from Their Excrement
Our preoccupation with these animals doesn’t end there. A much more bazaar, but less harmful preoccupation with the civet is in its unusual eating habits and fecal matter. Although most civets are carnivorous and eat such things as bugs, birds, and rodents, many eat berries. One, in particular, is the Indonesian Palm Civet, which is also known as the Common Palm Civet. This animal will only eat the ripest of fruit known as coffee cherries. Their long noses allow them to reach the finest tastiest ripest berries no matter how deeply in a bush it may be.
When the civet eats these berries and their juicy cherry-like center, they also swallow the indigestible casing. Because of the digestive process, the casing is fermented into perfectly, supposedly, tasty coffee beans. In Indonesia, people will collect these “beans” off the forest floor. Astonishingly, the beans remain perfectly intact despite digestion. Once gathered, they are put into bags, where they can be sold and made into coffee.
These coffee beans have had many different names. In Viet Nam, where the civet is known as a fox, Vietnamese name it for what it is- fox-dung coffee. In the US, where this delicacy sells $175 per one-pound bag, we prefer to call it Kopi Luwak, easily translated as Civet Coffee. Just think, the only people who drank this in the early nineteen hundreds were the poorest of Indonesia. I guess it’s all in the marketing! This delicacy is so rare, only fifty kilograms of Kopi Luwak is made each year, which are only 110 bags of coffee a year as of 2004.
Are Skunk Civet Cats?
No, skunks are not civet cats, although they are often referred to as a civet cat in South Dakota, which is a misnomer because they are neither civets nor cats. They are spotted skunks and are faster and smaller than their black and white striped cousins. They can weigh as little as 2-3 pounds.
How Can We Protect Endangered Animals?
If it were only the civets' dung people were after, these creatures would not be endangered today. In part, these animals are endangered because there are still poachers who hunt them for their meat and their fur. Others capture and use them for their territorial secretions. Yet, their biggest threat is the destruction of tropical rain forests where they live. Unlike the forests in the US, where we can plant new trees to replenish our forests, once the rain forest is destroyed, it is lost forever. We need to take steps to protect their habitat, by supporting companies that are trying to stop the spreading of civilization into the rainforest, such as Conservation International.
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© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz