40 African Civet Facts: Body Features, Life, and Behavior

Updated on June 14, 2020
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about living things.

An African civet
An African civet | Source

An Interesting Mammal

The African civet in a medium-sized and generally solitary mammal with some intriguing features. It’s a common animal in Africa south of the Sahara Desert and lives in forests and on the savanna. Unfortunately, in some areas it's kept in captivity so that the musk that it produces can be collected and sold. The animal belongs to the carnivore family known as the Viverridae and has the scientific name Civettictis civetta. It's sometimes referred to as an African civet cat, but it's not a member of the cat family (the Felidae).

In this article, I list forty facts about the African civet that may surprise you. There are probably many more facts about the animal to be discovered. Since it's generally nocturnal, it's hard to study the civet in its natural habitat. Even so, what is already known about the animal is very interesting.

In addition to civets, the Viverridae family includes genets, the binturong, and linsangs (also call oyans) in the genus Poiana. Linsangs in the genus Prionodon were once classified in the Viverridae family but are now placed in a different family.

Vegetation map of Africa
Vegetation map of Africa | Source

Range, Habitat, and Physical Features

1. African civets are found in the sub-Saharan part of Africa. They avoid the desert countries in Northern Africa and the dry ones in the southern tip.

2. The animals live primarily in forested areas. The only time that they are seen in arid places is when they are travelling beside a river.

3. A particular African civet looks different from every other member of its species (as far as we know). Each animal has its own combination of black or dark brown stripes, spots, and blotches on a white, cream, light brown, or grey background. The fur is short and dense.

4. All members of the species have a black mask next to and below their eyes that resembles that of a raccoon. They also have a pale muzzle and black lower legs. The tail has incomplete white, cream, or light brown rings.

5. The body fur of a civet is thick and dense. The hair on its tail is longer.

6. When an animal feels threatened or excited, it fluffs up its fur and erects the black hair of the crest along its spine, which makes it look bigger. The hair of the crest is sometimes known as a mane.

7. The attractive coat of the civet provides camouflage. The varied colors and shapes on the coat help to disguise the animal by breaking up its appearance as it hides in the grass of the savanna or in a forest dappled by moonlight.

8. The animal has a pointed face, small ears, an elongated body with a bulky rear half, and a long tail. Its head is generally held low.

9. The feet each have five claws. These are non-retractable, like a dog's claws.

The rescued animals in the video below may look friendly, but they are only semi-tame. They know the man in the video, who bottle-fed them when they were cubs.


10. An African civet has forty teeth—ten in each quadrant of its mouth.

11. Though the animal is classified in the order Carnivora, it follows an omnivorous diet. It eats fruit and other plant parts, carrion, and prey such as insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and their eggs, and rodents. It occasionally eats other animals, such as the young of bigger mammals.

12. It often pounces on its prey and shakes it in order to kill it.

13. The animals are good swimmers. If there is a suitable area of water in their habitat, they will catch and eat crabs and fish.

14. Like some other African mammals, African civets are said to eat the fruit of the Strychnos tree. Some sources say that they can withstand the strychnine in the fruit, but this may be due to confusion over the plant's identity.

15. Strychnos spinosa grows in the tropical regions of Africa. It's related to Strychnos nux-vomica, an Asian species. The seeds of the Asian tree contain strychnine, a deadly toxin. The seeds of the African species may or may not be toxic or may be toxic to only a limited degree. (If people decide to eat the fruit, they should make sure that they avoid the seeds due to their possible toxicity.)

A nineteenth-century illustration of the civet
A nineteenth-century illustration of the civet | Source

Life of an African Civet

16. The African civet is mainly nocturnal but is sometimes seen during the day, especially when the sky is cloudy. It generally becomes active shortly before sunset.

17. The civet is solitary for most of the year but meets other members of its species at times, especially during the mating season.

18. The animal produces several types of vocalizations, including growls, screams, and a sound that is described as a cough-spit. It sometimes emits a sound that is said to resemble "ha ha ha", apparently as a contact call.

19. Civets often deposit their dung in specific areas known as civetrines. These are located in clearings or beside trails. The dung isn't buried and is scent-marked by secretions from glands around the anus.

20. The dung is thought to mark a territorial boundary or to send a message to other civets during mating. A civet also scent-marks other items in its territory.

21. Males and females without cubs curl up on the ground in thick vegetation during the day in order to sleep. In captivity, the civets are often active during the day.

22. Females with cubs sleep in a nest created in a hole created by another animal, a space surrounded by tree roots, or a hollow tree.

Perineal Glands and Musk

23. African civets have perineal glands located near their anus. The glands release an oily and odoriferous secretion known as musk or civet.

24. The males release more musk than the females. The musk is used to transmit a message, as described above.

25. Unfortunately, humans have found a use for civet musk. Though its smell is unpleasant when it's released from the perineal glands, it's attractive when the musk is diluted. This has led to its use in the perfume industry.

26. The civet may also have scent glands in its neck. As can be seen in the two videos above, it often rubs its neck enthusiastically against items that it encounters.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies the civet in the Least Concern category of its Red List of Threatened Species. It says that the animal may be experiencing local declines due to hunting for fur and meat and capture for musk use.

Human Use of Civet Musk

27. Today civet musk is used primarily as a fixing agent for other scents in perfumes. The main chemical that gives the musk its odor and its pleasant scent when the secretion is highly diluted is civetone.

28. Artificial forms of civetone are now available, which appears to be helping the situation. Sadly, the natural product is still preferred by some commercial companies.

29. It's important to check the ingredients in perfume. The term "natural ingredients" on a product label may sound nice. Technically, a product containing civet musk or civetone can be called "natural", however.

30. The animals in civet farms (which are generally males) are typically kept in small cages not much bigger than their body. This enables their perineal glands to be easily reached and musk to be removed by scraping a gland, which is almost certainly a painful process. The inhumane treatment of the animals is of great concern to some people.

31. Though it's tempting to support the idea of making civet farms illegal, some people are trying a different approach due to the economic importance of the farms. They want to find ways to make the process more humane.

32. One researcher has made a potentially helpful discovery. If metal bars of a specific size are placed in a civet's enclosure, the animal will rub its perineal glands over them, depositing musk. The musk can then be collected. Other researchers have suggested harvesting musk from places where civets often deposit the secretion.

Some people may have heard of civet coffee made from partly-digested coffee cherries that have passed through the animal's digestive tract. In this case the animal involved is the Asian palm civet (Nandinia binotata), not the African civet. Obtaining the desired product typically involves cruelty, as in the palm civet's African relative.


33. In captivity, the female is reproductively mature at around the age of one. It's unknown whether this age is the same in the wild. Facts about reproduction have been discovered by observing captive animals.

34. The male reaches maturity two to three months before the female.

35. The females are polyestrous, which means they can have more than one litter in a year. A female may give birth to two to three litters in the same year.

36. Gestation lasts for sixty to seventy days.

37. A litter contains one to four cubs. The cubs have relatively mature features at birth compared to the young of many other mammals. They are completely furred, though they are mainly black in color. They are also able to crawl immediately after being born.

38. The female has six nipples.

39. The cubs feed entirely on their mother's milk for four to six weeks. They are fully weaned at around fourteen to sixteen weeks of age.

40. African civets can live for fifteen to twenty years in captivity. Some reports say they can live as long as twenty-eight years.

The animals in the two "civet cat" videos were discovered when a farmer was clearing some land. Their mother had disappeared, so the animals were rescued. In the video above, they are drinking highly diluted porridge (grain boiled in milk or water).

Questions That Need to Be Answered

Many facts about African civets need to be discovered or confirmed. For example, some sources say that the animals are good tree climbers while others say they are unable to climb trees. It's also said that the animals attack and eat venomous snakes without being harmed. It would be interesting to know the details about how the civet attacks the snake safely and whether this is a widespread practice.

Another problem is that some observations of wild civet behavior are quite old. That doesn't mean that they're wrong, but additional observations of the same behaviors would increase the likelihood that they are generally correct occurrences instead of only sometimes true. Learning more about the engaging African civet could be both useful and enjoyable.


  • The African civet entry from EOL (Encyclopedia of Life), which is hosted by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History
  • Civettictis civetta entry from the Red List of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
  • Information about the African civet from Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Questions & Answers

  • How many different kinds of civets are there?

    This question is hard to answer, for two reasons. First, scientists disagree about whether certain animals in the civet group should be classified as separate species or as subspecies of the same species. Secondly, people disagree about which animals should be referred to by the common name “civet”. The word appears in the common name of members of at least eleven genera at the moment. That would make at least sixteen species with the word “civet” in their name according to the current classification method.

  • Can African civets see in the dark?

    The retina is the light-sensitive layer at the back of our eyeball. When cells in the retina are stimulated, they send a message to the brain along the optic nerve, enabling us to see. African civets are mammals, like us, and their eyes work in the same way as ours. Unlike us, however, African civets have a tapetum lucidum behind their retina. This reflects any light that reaches it back to the retina. This gives the retina a second chance to be stimulated and improves night vision. Since we don’t have a tapetum lucidum, the civet probably sees better at night than we do.

  • How do you distinguish one African civet from another?

    You would have to observe the animals that interest you and look at their coat pattern and color, their size, and perhaps their behavior. Careful observation would probably enable you to distinguish one animal from another.

  • Are African Civets fast?

    There is a lot that is unknown about the animals. In their daily life, they may not move fast. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) web page for the African civet says that two radio-tracked individuals "moved at an average speed of 326 m/h (metres/hour) and traveled between 1.33 and 4.24 km each night". I've never seen a reliable statement about the maximum speed of the species. I doubt whether it's known.

© 2018 Linda Crampton


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    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Thewayer.

    • profile image


      3 months ago

      This is great research!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm very glad that your neighbour rescued the civets. I have no experience in taking care of the animals, though. You should do some research to find people or organizations in your country who can help you. Conservation and animal welfare institutions in various countries may be helpful as well. Good luck.

    • profile image

      Madu Michael CHIBURUZOR 

      9 months ago

      my neighbour found a civet kitten on his farm and brought dem home, they are about two weeks old, how do I go about taking care of them.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Devika. I agree with your last point. Learning never stops in biology!

    • profile image


      23 months ago

      I have heard of the African Civet but you enlightened me of so much more. Interesting and learning never stops!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the second comment, Manatita.

    • manatita44 profile image


      23 months ago from london

      The deer. My mistake.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Genna. It is interesting to observe the animals' behaviour in captivity when they are kept in good conditions and treated well. The youngsters are very appealing!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Dora. Yes, it would be great if people could gather the material without keeping the animals captive. I hope major changes are made with respect to obtaining and using civet musk.

    • profile image

      Genna East 

      23 months ago

      I've never heard of this mammal before this. Thanks for sharing such interesting info on this curious little critter. The video shows them as playful and affectionate -- rather like cats -- when treated well in captivity.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      23 months ago from The Caribbean

      Amazing! So many interesting facts and still not fully observed. Wish there was a way to get the benefit of the musk without holding them captive.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Peggy. I agree that the process should be outlawed, at the very least in its current form. I appreciate your visit.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      23 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It was so interesting learning more about this animal. I truly wish that there was no cruelty involved in harvesting musk from them for the perfume industry. That should be outlawed in my opinion.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit and the interesting comment, Manatita. I've never read anything about musk production in the European hare. That would be an interesting topic to investigate. I hope you have a great weekend.

    • manatita44 profile image


      23 months ago from london

      An enjoyable read of this rather unusual creature. Sad about the things we humans do. I believe the hare has musks no? Have a pleasant weekend.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing the information, Cynthia. I think I would definitely have had difficulty breathing around the person that you describe!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia Zirkwitz 

      23 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Hi Linda,

      Your article about the Afrcan civets, and accompanying videos, was utterly fascinating! I knew little about the civets, just about their musk being used in the perfume business. Shocking in this age of 'scent restrictions' in public buildings, but I once worked in a hospital with a woman who wore a very strong perfume that took my breath away with its musky undertones. She said it was an "expensive" fragrance that her friend had bought in a duty-free store at the airport. I had trouble breathing in her vicinity and can only imagine how difficult it must have been for patients with serious respiratory issues. Perhaps the offending scent wasn't civet musk but an artificial additive, but her emphasis on how pricey it was makes me believe that it was likely the "real" civet musk.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Peg. It is a fascinating creature. Not all perfumes contain civet or its artificial equivalent, but it seems that a lot do. It's a shame that the natural ingredient is still used.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      23 months ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      This is a fascinating creature and you've identified so many of its interesting characteristics. What a shame that cruelty is involved in the production of perfume. Glad that I no longer wear it.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The cubs' method of feeding is certainly interesting! Thanks for the visit, Jackie.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      23 months ago from the beautiful south

      Beautiful and interesting. Wonder if they ever learn to drink milk? So funny!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Bede. Thanks for the comment. The North American animal belongs to the raccoon family instead of the African civet one, but it does have some similarities, as you say. It's another interesting animal.

    • Bede le Venerable profile image


      23 months ago from Minnesota

      I enjoyed learning about the African civet, Linda. Let’s hope that greater awareness of their plight will lead to better treatment. North America has a similar type of animal, the ring-tailed civet cat- are they related to the African civet? In any case, they have a number of similarities.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I appreciate your visit and comment, Liz.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      23 months ago from UK

      I hadn't heard of the African civet until I read this article. I've learned a lot.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      That's a sad fate for any animal. I hope it doesn't happen. Thanks for the visit, Bill.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Fascinating...beautiful....I sure hope man doesn't find a way to eliminate this animal along with all the others we have erased.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I think they're cute, too, Flourish! My favourite video is actually the first one. African civets are very interesting animals.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, John. I doubt whether the process can be stopped completely, too, at least in the near feature. It's economically important in some places. I hope very much that a compromise can be reached. A much better life for the civets that still provides a significant income for people would be good for now. I hope that eventually another source of income can be found for the people who collect musk. Thank you for the visit.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      23 months ago from USA

      That video of them sharing the same water bowl was cue. They look a like raccoons. Absolutely adorable.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      23 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Linda, these were 30 facts I definitely didn't know as I knew nothing about the African Civet until I read this. I found this very interesting and educational. What a wonderful animal. With the popularity of musk, I doubt the extraction from civets can be stopped completely but I do hope a much more humane way is adopted. Wonderful article, thank you.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Nor will I, Mary. I don't actually wear perfume, but I make sure that any other scented products that I buy don't contain civet products. The situation for the captive animals is often horrible. Ideally, the animals wouldn't be kept in captivity. If their release can't be arranged, they need to live in much better conditions and be treated well.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      23 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have not seen a civet but I am pained by what is done to them just to take musk for perfume. I certainly will not use perfumes that have this.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for such a kind comment, Leland. The civets are very interesting animals, though it's probably not a good idea to get one as a pet, as you say. It's enjoyable to watch them in videos, though!

    • Leland Johnson profile image

      Leland Johnson 

      23 months ago from Midland MI

      Linda- wonderful article! I want a civet for a pet! Probably not a good idea? I love how you bullet your points and I really enjoyed the first video (haven't watched the other 2 yet). I have never seen or heard of this animal. I bet you're an excellent teacher based on how well you communicate in your articles. I loved it. Great job.


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