What is a Civet? (Their Lives, Origins and Habitats Explained)

What exactly is a civet is for those who are unfamiliar with this animal? First let’s be clear on misconceptions right away. Although they are ordinarily called civet cats, civets, or (civettectis civetta), are not cats. They are actually related to the mongoose more than to the cat family.

Appearance of the Civet

There are many types of civets. The African Civet has short, thick fur that has a gray hue, with black spots placed in rows the length of their bodies. Their legs are black, as is around 2/3 of their tail, with around a third of the base of the tail featuring striped markings. The face of the Asian Palm civet, Asian civet and African civet has gray hues with the exception of a white muzzle and notable black markings around the eyes that travel down the face. The Sri Lankan golden palm civet is a russet brown color from head to toe.

There are patterned bars of white and black running down the sides of their long necks, normally with one white bar encased by two black bars, one above and one below. They possess a short mane 3-10 cm in length that travels along their back. Civets have 5 digits on each of their paws with claws that are not retractable. Their mouths contain 40 teeth.

What is a Civet? (Their Lives, Origins and Habitats Explained)
What is a Civet? (Their Lives, Origins and Habitats Explained). A Golden Palm Civet

Diet of Civets

The civet is on an omnivorous diet that consists of carrion, birds, rodents, eggs, reptiles, crabs, frogs, insects, fruits, and other vegetation. Occasionally they will feast on poultry. Being nocturnal the civet is at its most active around an hour or so after dark falls when they come out seeking insects, reptiles, mice, etc.


Female African Civets become sexually active when they turn a year old and can have 2-3 litters a year. One to 3 young in a litter is normal. Young civets are born in the advanced stages common to most carnivores. They come into the world with fur, although their fur is shorter, darker, and softer than that of adults. While their markings are not as clearly defined as this of adult civets.

The young are capable of crawling at birth, and their back legs support the entire body by the fifth day of life. They begin leaving the nest by around 17-28 days.

Young civets rely entirely upon their mother’s milk for the first 6 weeks of life. When they are around 42 days old, their mother supplies solid food for them. By as early as the second month, they are already catching food for themselves.


The African Civet is essentially an animal that keeps to itself except when breeding. We have limited knowledge about civet habits because they are not only nocturnal, but they’re also highly secretive. They mark their territories and alert other animals to their presence by rubbing secretions from the perineal glands on objects, which they do quite often. This glandular secretion carries a strong, musky odor which can remain active as long as 3 months.

Although civets prefer to be solitary, they do possess an array of visual, auditory, and olfactory methods of communication. Civets generally behave rather docilely.

Habitat of Civets

Both the forest and the open country is home to the African Civet, although they do need a covering of high grasses or thicket to make them feel safe during the day. They are seldom seen in Africa’s more arid areas. Rather, they are normally seen, cleverly enough, near permanent water systems.

Apparently the African Civet makes use of a permanent burrow or nest only for the purpose of bearing its young. It is nocturnal and nearly totally terrestrial, but takes to water easily enough and is a good swimmer.

Where Are Civets Found?

The African Civet, lives on the Savannah’s and in the forests of southern and central Africa. It is seldom seen in arid regions, though it can be seen along rivers traveling to Niger, Chad, and Mali.

Common Palm Civet

The Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphrodities), belongs to the viverridae family and makes its home in South and Southeast Asia.

In Indonesia, however, it is under attack from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. The animal is in high demand because buyers use it for increasing production levels of kopi luwak, a type of coffee that is made from beans the civet has ingested and then excreted.

It has been claimed that Asian palm civets were the carriers that transmitted the SARS virus from horseshoe bats to human beings.

Characteristics of Civets

The Asian Palm Civet has a long, solidly built body that features coarse, shaggy fur that has a gray hue. It sports a white mask across the forehead, a small white patch beneath each eye, a white spot on each side of the nose, and a narrow dark line between its eyes. The muzzle, lower legs, ears and part of the tail are black, there are 3 rows of black markings displayed on the body.


The Asian Palm Civet is native to Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China, and the Philippines among many other areas.

While the Asian Palm Civet normally lives in primary forests, it also inhabits secondary forests. Further, it is found in parks and even suburban gardens that contain fruit trees, fig trees, and vegetation. Besides trees, its razor-sharp claws make it easy for it to climb house gutters as well. In most areas of Sri Lanka, palm civets are thought of as a pest since they have their litters in ceilings and attics of homes, and make loud noises as they move about and even fight during the night.

Behavior of Civets in the Wild

The Asian Palm Civet leads an essentially solitary lifestyle, with the exception of brief periods when mating takes place. It is ordinarily at its most active between dawn and 4:00 in the morning, but less so during nights when the moon is at its brightest.


The Asian Palm Civet is omnivorous, primarily feeding on berries and other pulpy fruit types. Thus, albeit unintentionally, it helps to preserve the tropical forest ecosystems through seed distribution. It also east chiku, mango, coffee, rambutan, and small mammals and insects.

Interestingly enough, it also consumes the sap of palm flowers, which when fermented becomes palm wine, a sweet liquor or (“toddy”). Due to this habit, it is called the toddy cat.

Hunting of Civets

In some areas Asian Palm Civets are hunted for the pet trade and bushmeat. It is widely hunted and trapped in southern China. Moreover, dead animals were found with local tribes who hunt and kill it for its meat in Tamil Nadu, Pradesh, and other areas of India.

Indigenous tribes place small pieces of the meat in linseed oil in a closed earthen pot, place it in the sun regularly, and take the oil from the meat to be used as a cure for scabies.

Kopi Luwak Coffee and the Civet

This is coffee made by the use of coffee beans that have been ingested and fermented in the gastrointestinal tract of the Asian Civet. To put it bluntly, kopi luwak coffee is customarily made using the feces of wild civets, however, now that it has risen in scale to become a popular drink, civets are being captured and taken from the wild for the purpose of making this coffee. This is occurring on a regular basis. These civets are force-fed coffee beans in order to produce mass quantities of this blend.

Housing them in these cages, which are called battery cage systems, has been criticized for being cruel treatment of the animals. So far, the effect of the demand for this trendy coffee on the wild palm civet population is unknown, however, it may be a significant threat to the animals.


In the Philippines, the upland Bagobo people have a being in their mythology named Lakivot who is said to be an enormous and powerful palm civet who is able to talk. Lakivot fought and defeated an array of monsters, such as the one-eyed monster Agassi, and the busaw beings who watched over the Tree of Gold. This tree held the Flower of Gold that he wanted. He was eventually changed into a handsome young man, and married the person to whom he gave the Flower of Gold.

Fantastic Facts About the Civet

  • Almost nothing is known about the Hose’s civet found only in Borneo. Experts believe its numbers have decline 30% in the last few decades.
  • Many civets will eat nectar as a major part of their diet
  • The African civet is deemed not threatened by the ICUN. However even this species is declining due to the bush meat trade and farming.
The Very Rare Hose’s Civet

Types of Civet

  • African Civet
  • Asian Palm Civet
  • Masked Palm Civet
  • Small Indian Civet
  • Small Tooth Palm
  • Malabar Large-Spotted
  • Malayan Civet
  • Large Indian Civet
  • African Palm Civet
  • Otter Civet
  • Malagasy Civet
  • Banded Palm Civet
  • Large Spotted Civet
  • Owston’s Civet
  • Brown Palm Civet
  • Hose’s Palm Civet
  • Golden Palm Civet
  • Sulawesi Palm Civet

Other Types of Civets

Besides the civets mentioned above, some other civets are the Sunda Otter Civet and the rare Congo Water Civet. Together with the African Civet they are all semiaquatic animals. The Sunda Otter Civet is found in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and northern Vietnam.

The anal glands of civets, located under the tail contain a rather greasy secretion that smells like musk. This is called civet, and is used by the animals for the purpose of marking their territories. There is also another use for it though. The secretion of the small Indian Civet, or rasse, and that of the Oriental Civet are used in the creation of perfume.

What is a Civet? (Their Lives, Origins and Habitats Explained)
What is a Civet? (Their Lives, Origins and Habitats Explained

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you buy a Civet as a Pet?

If you live in the United States you are out of luck because you are banned from owning a civet. Civets are not permitted to be imported into the country due to the chance that they may be carrying the SARS virus.

Are There Civets in North America?

Surprisingly enough. North America has its very own civet cat. It’s commonly known as the ringtail and also the ringtail cat. It is found in the desert locations of the southwestern United States and the areas which abut Mexico.

Is a civet cat a skunk?

There is a big difference between civets and skunks. Still, there is a spotted skunk, that is also referred to as the hydrophobia cat or the civet cat. This animal is actually the size that a small domestic cat would be, and around half the size of your average striped skunk. These skunks are a tad friendlier than other skunks. And several of them may actually get together and share a den over the winter months.

Do People eat Civet cats?

There are many civet cats in China, Malaysia, and India. While selling civet cats is banned in Hong Kong, many people do cross over into China to consume this unusual dish, as well as other exotic animals. In southern China it is a common belief that eating various types of wildlife can strengthen certain human organs. Organizations such as IUCN are petitioning Asian countries to ban the civet’s consumption.

Is civet coffee safe?

Basically, research has learned that kopi luwak has lower levels of bacteria than regular coffee. It has further been discovered that it is the fermentation which takes place in the civet’s digestive system that actually makes these particular coffee beans healthier. Just don’t think too much about where they came from and you should be able to enjoy your civet coffee just fine.

Is the Palm Civet Dangerous?

In spite of the fact that it is known as a reserved yet comparatively fierce predatory animal, the Asian palm civet is, in reality, preyed upon by numerous predators that live right in the civet’s natural environment. The palm civet will not attack humans, however, unless provoked or protecting its young. Asian palm civets normally eat the fruits and even the flowers of palm, mangos, and the coffee bush which are found in their natural habitats.

Is a Civet a Cat or a Monkey?

Normally referred to as civet cats, civets are not in fact cats, nor are they monkeys. In reality, they are more closely linked to mongooses than to cats. The Common Palm Civet is one of the species of civet that can usually be seen in Singapore. Civets are known as Musang’ in the Malay language.

Besides Making Coffee, What Else are Civets Used For?

Throughout Asia civets are valued and thus hunted for their fur, which gray or brown in color and can have stripes or spots. Furthermore, they are also caged for the musk they produce, which is extracted from the animals for use in perfume.

Can Civets be Pets?

Yes. If you’re into exotic animals, the agile wallaby, sika deer, Tamar wallaby, llama, and Asian palm civet are all considered to make suitable pets.

What Does Civet Coffee Taste Like?

The unique flavor of Kopi Luwak is essentially described as an earthy, musky taste with touches of caramel and chocolate. Some people who drink it simply say that it has a jungle taste, though in reality it is a taste of coffee with a subtle after taste.

Owston’s Palm Civet

You can read more about conservation of the Hose’s Civet here:
Hose’s Civet & Small Carnivore Project, Borneo | HOSCAP

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