The African civet is a large species of civet found in sub-Saharan Africa. The African civet is the only remaining member of its gene pool and is considered to be the largest civet-like animal on the African continent.
Despite their feline appearance and behavior, African civets are not felines at all but are actually more closely related to other small carnivores, such as weasels and mongooses. The African civet is best known for the musk it secretes to mark its territory (called civetone), which has been used in perfume making for centuries, and its striking black and white markings make the African civet one of the species of civet easier to identify.
African Civet Appearance
One of the most distinctive features of the African civet are the black and white markings on the fur and gray face, which together with the black band around their eyes, give these animals a raccoon-like appearance. The similarity is only accentuated by the fact that the African civet’s hind legs are a bit longer than the front legs, making their posture very different from that of a mongoose.
The medium-adult African civet has a body length of around 70cm with a tail of nearly the same length on top. The legs of the African civet each have five toes with non-retractable claws to allow the civet to move more easily through trees.
African Civet Habitat
The African civet is found in a variety of habitats on the African continent and its range extends from coast to coast in sub-Saharan Africa. African civets are most commonly found in tropical forests and jungles and in areas where there is a lot of dense vegetation to provide cover and animals that African civets feed on.
African civets are never found in arid regions and should always be in an area that has a good water source. However, despite this, it is not uncommon for African civets to be found along the rivers leading to the driest regions. They are good swimmers and often spend their time hunting and resting both in trees and on the ground.
African Civet Behaviour
The African civet is a solitary animal that only comes out under the cover of the night to hunt and get food. These nocturnal animals are mainly arboreal creatures that spend most of the hours of the day resting in the safety of the trees above.
African civets tend to be most active soon after dark, but they tend to hunt in areas that still provide plenty of covers. Although generally very solitary creatures, the African civet is known to congregate in groups of up to 15 members, especially during the mating season. They are also highly territorial animals, marking their borders with the scent released by their perineal glands.
African Civet Reproduction
The only time African civets appear to be together is when they mate. The female African civet usually gives birth to up to 4 young after a gestation period lasting a couple of months. The female African civet nests in an underground burrow that has been dug by another animal to raise her young safely.
Unlike many of their carnivorous relatives, Civet puppies are generally born quite mobile and with their own fur. Babies are nursed by their mothers until they are strong enough to fend for themselves. African civets can live up to 20 years, although many rarely reach this age.
African Civet Diet
Despite the fact that the African civet is a carnivorous mammal, it has a very varied diet that is made up of both animal and vegetable substances. Small animals such as rodents, lizards, snakes, and frogs make up the bulk of the African civet’s diet, along with insects, berries, and fallen fruit found on the forest floor.
The African civet predominantly uses its teeth and mouth to collect food instead of using its paws. This method of feeding means that the African civet can effectively use its 40 sharp teeth to break the grip, and the African civet’s strong jaw makes it more difficult for food to escape.
African Civet Predators
Despite being a reserved but relatively ferocious predator, the African civet is actually preyed upon by various other predators in its natural environment. Large predatory cats are the most common predators of the African civet, including lions and leopards, along with reptiles such as large snakes and crocodiles.
Populations of African civet are also threatened by habitat loss and deforestation and have in the past been the subject of trophy hunters across the continent. One of the biggest threats to the African civet is the need for its moss.
African Civet Interesting Facts
The moss secreted by the glands near the reproductive organs of the African civet has been harvested by humans for hundreds of years. In its concentrated form, the smell is said to be quite offensive to people, but much more pleasant once diluted.
It was this perfume that became one of the ingredients of some of the most expensive perfumes in the world (and made the African civet a well-known African animal). African civets are known to be carriers of rabies disease, which is contracted through contact with an already infected animal. The African civet is also known to use designated areas around its territory where it can go to the bathroom.
African Civet Relationship with Humans
Each African civet secretes up to 4g of moss every week, which is normally collected by African civets in the wild. However, the capture and storage of African civets for their moss is not unheard of and is said to be an incredibly cruel industry.
Today, few scents still contain real musk from the glands of an African civet, as many aromas today are easily artificially reproducible. Although it is a protected animal but not in danger of extinction, African civet populations have also been severely affected by human hunters, who hunt these small carnivores simply by adding their fur to the trophy case.
African Civet Conservation Status
Today the African civet is threatened by deforestation and, therefore, by the drastic loss of much of its natural habitat. The main reason for such extensive deforestation in the area is the clearing or clearing of land to make way for palm oil plantations. The African civet is on the Least Concern list, which means there is little threat at this time that the African civet will go extinct in the foreseeable future.