Although civets are sometimes called civet cats they are not cats. They resemble weasels and are the largest and most doglike of the Viverridae family, which includes genets and mongooses. Civets usually have a slender body and long tail and look sort of like a cross between a dog and an ocelot. They are related to cats and hyenas but are considered more primitive, with a longer snout and more teeth.
Viverridae typically have a long body and tail, short legs, an elongated neck and head and a tapered snout. Most civets and genets have spots in longitudinal rows along the body. Al species have scent glands in the anal region, and in civets these produce a substance used in perfume. Some viverrids are carnivorous while others eat only fruit, even though they possess the teeth of a carnivore. Most are ominvorous, and eat small mammals and birds, lizards or invertebrates
The term civet applies to over a dozen different mammal species. The greatest number of species is found in southeast Asia. The most well-known civet species is the African Civet, which historically has been the main species from which the musky civet scent used in perfumery has been obatined. The word civet may also refer to the distinctive musky scent produced by the animals. Some of the indigenous people in Peninsular Malaysia, the Orang Asli, occasionally keep pet civets.
Civets will eat almost anything. Some like to eat snakes. They have an excellent sense of smell and hunt prey in stalking manner like a cat. Most members of the Viverridae family are solitary. The civets muzzle is extended and often pointed, rather like an otter or a mongoose. They range in length from about 17 to 28 inches (43 to 71 centimeters) (excluding their long tails) and in weight from about 3 to 10 pounds (1.4 to 4.5 kilograms).
Most members of the Viverridae family are solitary. Viverrids are native to Africa (except the area immediately south of the Mediterranean), Madagascar, the Iberian Peninsula, southern China, South and Southeast Asia. Favoured habitats include woodland, savanna, and mountain biomes and, above all, tropical rainforest. In consequence, many are faced with severe loss of habitat; several species are considered vulnerable and the Otter Civet is classified as endangered. 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.
Civets, Scent and Perfumes
Civets produce a buttery, honey-like secretion that is scraped off their perineal glands. It is prized as a fixative in perfumes. Most of the civets used in the perfume industry have traditionally been raised in captivity in Ethiopia. Concerns over the animals welfare and survival has meant that mostly synthetics are used today. The secretion is called civet. In large amounts it has a revolting fecal smell, but in small concentration it is said to have an attractive smell. Chanel No. 5 contains civet.
David Attenborough wrote: “Smells in great variety and varying pungencies seem to dominate the world of the civets. They use it locate their food---whether it is the surging fragrance of distant ripening fruit or the infinitesimal whiff that a small rodent might have left in its footprints. But they too use smell to communicate within the group. The organ that produces these messages---their olfactory larynx as it is there---is a large pouch-like gland that lies between their anus and their genitals.”
“This produces an oily substance as thick as honey with a smell that, sampled in strength by the human nose, is so unpleasant to verge on nauseating. However it has a particular quality that is so highly valued by those who make perfumes for human use. The civet’s oil exalts other perfumes. It heightens them, retaining their volatile oils and releasing them so slowly that they linger for a long time. For this reason, humans have greatly valued civet oil for many centuries and have hunted civets entirely for the sake of it. Civets themselves smear their oil on their dunghills ad on rocks and branches in their territories as signs of ownership, warning others to keep out. Some merely bend their back legs and drag their rears along the ground. Others will stand on their hands in order to place their pungent posters as high as they can.” [Ibid]
According to Wikipedia: “Both male and female civets produce the strong-smelling secretion. It is harvested by either killing the animal and removing the glands, or by scraping the secretions from the glands of a live animal. The latter is the preferred method today. Animal rights groups, such as the World Society for the Protection of Animals, 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.
Palm Civets and Malayan Civets
The Malayan civet is widespread in the forests and woodlands in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Borneo and Sumatra. It has many dark spots that form lines along its body and has a distinctive black and white neck collar, white underside, black legs and feet and about 15 bands the tail. The Malayan civets measures 62 to 66 centimeters (24 to 26 inches) from head to rear end and has a tail that is 28 to 35 centimeters (11 to 14 inches) long. It weighs 3.5 to 4.5 kilograms. It rarely climbs into trees and spends most of its time son forest floor feeding millipedes, giant centipedes, scorpions and small mammals such as mice. The Malayan civet is nocturnal and lives up to 11 years.
The palm civet is an adaptable creature that lives in forests and woodlands, including those occupied by humans, in India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, southern China, the Philippines and Indonesia. It has a pale brown or gray coat with dark flank spots and black stripes on its back that are sometimes hard to see. Its forehead has a pale band running across. Its face has masked, polecat-like appearance. Palm civets measure 43 to 71 centimeters (17 to 28 inches) from head to rear end and has a bushy tail that is 40 to 66 centimeters long. It weighs 1.5 to 4.5 kilograms. Its claws are not retractile.
The palm civet is nocturnal and arboreal and is often found in palm trees in villages and towns, but also in many types of tree.”Its name and nickname (toddy cat) is derived from its fondness of palm wine. The Asian palm civet is believed to lead a solitary lifestyle, except for brief periods during mating. It is usually active between 6:00 pm and 4:00 am, being less active during nights when the moon is brightest, with peaks between late evening until after midnight. It performs scent marking using anal glands, urine, and feces. The most common marking behavior is dragging the anal glands on a surface to leave a scent. It is able to identify animal species, sex, and whether the animal that left the scent is known or unknown by smelling an anal scent secretion. Little is known about the animal’s reproductive habits, but is thought that the female gives birth to three or four young per liter, possibly several times a year.
Palm civets often venture into urban and suburban environments, with people often complaining about civet feces or noise from the animals climbing on roofs. The palm civet often makes it home in the roofs of houses. Their sharp claws allow them to climb trees and house gutters. In most parts of Sri Lanka, palm civets are considered a nuisance since they litter in ceilings and attics of common households, and make loud noises fighting and moving about at night. Some studies have undertaken to examine and mitigate human-animal conflict in these cases.
The palm civet feeds on rats and mice which it sometimes catches in homes or cellars and also eats fruit, particularly figs, buds, grasses, insects, small vertebrates and sometimes poultry. They eat chiku, mango, rambutan and coffee, but also small mammals and insects. Ecologically, they fill a similar niche in Asia as Common Raccoons in North America. It also feeds on palm flower sap, which when fermented becomes toddy, a sweet liquor. Because of this habit it is called the toddy cat. It plays a role in the germination of the Pinanga kuhlii and P. zavana palm trees.[
The large Indian civet is a sturdily built animal with long head, long flattened body, stumpy legs & small rounded feet. An adult’s body and head measure up to 80 centimeters (32 inches), with a tail is up to 46 centimeters (16.4 inches). It weighs as much as 25 kilograms. Large Indian civets are found from northern India to China through Burma. The general colour is dark hoary grey, frequently washed yellowish or brown. It has vertical crest of long deep black hairs that runs down to the middle of the back. It has a thick tapering tail which is half as long as the size of the body. Its tail is completely ringed with 6 broad black bands. This species can easily be domesticated and is sometimes penned so its civet substance can be be gathered conviniently.
The large Indian civet is a solitary nocturnal animal. During daytime, it takes shelter in bushes, thick grass or heavy scrub jungle & hunts in the night. Its diet include small animals, birds, snakes, frogs, fishes, crabs, Insects. It is not exclusively carnivorous and equally feeds on fruits & roots. One wildlife books described this civet as “the most fearsome of small predators as it can kill prey several times larger than itself. “Its attacking methods consists of repeatedly biting the hind quarters of its prey while running, then grabbing it and shaking it until dead.
Large Indian civets spend most of their time on the ground, though they are agile climbers. During the day, they sleep in burrows in the ground that have been dug by other animals and abandoned. They are territorial and mark their territories with excretions from their anal glands. Their territory can range from 1.7 to 5.4 km2 (0.66 to 2.1 sq mi). Females give birth to a litter of three or four, usually in May.
The small Indian civet is distinguished from the large Indian civet by the presence of a dorsal crest and absence of long black hairs It is a smaller animal with a head and body length of about 80 centimeters and tail that is about 25 centimeters long. It weighs 2.5 to four kilograms. Its coat varies from brownish or olive grey to light grey. There are longitudinal dark stripes and rows of spots along the body, a stripe down each side of the neck and frequently one across the throat. Its tail is ringed with grey & brown. The small Indian civet is a shy nocturnal animal It takes shelter in holes in the ground, under rocks or thick bushes. Quite at home in trees, it feeds on rats, lizards, small birds, insects , fruits and it is very much fond of the berries. The small Indian is found in northern Indian, Sri Lanka and Burma.
Civets and Coffee
Kopi Luwak is said to be the world’s rarest and most expensive coffee. It is brewed from beans hand-picked from civet dropping. Civets are tree-dwelling nocturnal animals that resemble a cross between a weasel and a leopard. They have a special gland that produces a scent coveted in the perfume industry. A cup of Kopi Luwak sold at Australia’s Heritage Tea Rooms goes for $42 a cup. The estimated global production of Kopi Luwak is only around 300 kilograms.
Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo of Agence France-Presse wrote: Indonesia's self-proclaimed "King of Luwak", Gunawan Supriadi, is having a hard time keeping up with demand for the beans excreted by his stable of pampered civet "cats". And he's not alone. Demand for coffee brewed with beans plucked from the dung of the furry, weasel-like creatures -- known locally as luwaks -- is surging among well-healed connoisseurs around the world, exporters say. About 40 civets at Supriadi's plantation in West Lampung district, Sumatra, provide the intestinal machinery for his Raja Luwak (King of Luwak) brand of bean. Lampung is the undisputed capital of luwak coffee. [Source: Alvin Darlanika Soedarjo, Agence France-Presse, March 10, 2011]
"My target is to have 150 civets soon because I have to meet the surge in demand," Supriadi said. "In 2008, I gathered about 50 kilograms of luwak beans and sold them to local distributors. In 2009, I sold 300 kilograms. In 2010, I sold 1.2 tons." The "golden droppings" of the luwak, or Asian palm civet, fetch up to $800 per kilogram (two pounds) in countries like the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. It's another story altogether at retail level. Single cups of the world's most expensive coffee have been known to sell for almost $100 in specialty outlets in London.
The civets play two roles. Firstly, they tend to choose the best berries to digest. Experts say wild civets are the most discerning, but their droppings are also the most difficult to harvest. Having nibbled off the thin outer layer of fruit, the civets put their digestive juices to work. The enzymes penetrate the beans -- usually arabica in Sumatra -- and change their chemical balance in subtle ways. The end product, after a good wash and light roasting, lacks the bitterness of ordinary coffee and has a unique, soft flavour. "If luwak coffee is a car, then it must be a Rolls-Royce," Supriadi said. Exporter Doni Irawan said his sales had grown 50 percent in the past year. "It has become the prima donna of coffee due to its high price and limited supply. It keeps gaining new, dedicated fans," he said.
The tradition of luwak coffee stretches back hundreds of years to the time of Dutch rule in Indonesia. Banned from their colonial masters' coffee crops, indigenous farmers took to collecting, cleaning and roasting undigested beans found in the forest-dwelling animals' droppings.
Indonesia is now the world's main producer of luwak coffee, but the industry has really only flourished in recent years and official export figures are hard to find. Retailers said demand was also high among status-conscious members of Indonesia's burgeoning middle class. In a country where around 40 percent of the population earns less than $2 a day, luwak coffee sells for about $8 a cup in up-market shopping malls. "I never used to like coffee at all, but after trying luwak coffee my world changed. I became addicted," Jakarta resident Galang Sulung Ramanda, 24, told AFP. "I also drink it for its health benefits. I heard that it can prevent asthma, Parkinson's, colon cancer and diabetes," he said.
The success of luwak coffee has given birth to a plethora of fake brands, which promise that special civet experience at half the usual price. Not to be outdone, Vietnamese entrepreneurs say they have developed a way to chemically treat regular beans to produce the same luwak taste.
Civets and SARS
In early January 2004, as part of the anti-SARS campaign, the government ordered the slaughter of all palm civets, hog badgers and racoon dogs in the Guangzhou area. Thousands were killed but many escaped because the were hidden by owners and animal traders. Chinese health officials in goggles, white smock and masks raided markets and breeding farms and seized animals that were killed by electrocution, boiled to death or drowned in disinfectant and then incinerated. A campaign to get rid of rats was also launched.
About 10,000 animals were killed, In addition to the cull, roadblocks were set up to make sure no one was smuggling animals out of the region. People who worked in the animal markets where civets were sold had their blood tested, sometimes several times. Those who hid animals were threatened with fines of up to $12,000.
The measure came eight months after palm civets, hog badgers and racoon dogs at a Guangzhou market had been found carrying a virus almost identical to SARS. Instead of acting quickly them, suspicions were raised about the quality of the data. Not long after the civet cull the ban on selling civets was lifted and markets were again filled with the animals. Many scientists believe the killing of all these animals may do more harm than good. Little is known about SARS and its transmission and studying these animals may provide some insights into the disease. There was little evidence that killing animals provided much help.
The SARS outbreak brought attention to the consumption in civet cat in Guangzhou Even after the SARS outbreak business was good at the First Village of Wild Food restaurant in Guangzhou. One customer who was eating civet cat told the New York Times, it tastes “very good, very good.” When asked if was worried about SARS he said, “It’s no big deal.”
Linsangs is an originally Javanese name applied to four species of tree-dwelling carnivorous mammals. The two African species belong to the family Viverridae, the two Asiatic species belong to the family Prionodontidae. The two African linsangs are the African linsang and Leighton's linsang. The two Asiatic linsangs are the banded linsang and spotted linsang. In the Asian speices the second upper molar found in viverrids are absent.
The spotted linsang lives in forests that extend from eastern India across Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos to northern Vietnam. Resembling a cross between a small dog and spotted cat, this slender, muscular mammal moves gracefully from branch to branch in the forest canopy, using its tail for balance and stability. Nocturnal, it has large ears and big eyes adapted for night vision. The spotted linsang measures 37 to 43 centimeters (14½ to 17 inches) from head to rear end and has a tail that is 30 to 36 centimeters (12 to 14 inches) long. It weighs 0.6 to 1.2 kilograms. The male is almost twice the size of females. It spends most of its time in trees and feeds mostly on small animals such as frogs, snakes, rats and mice as well as carrion. Females give birth to litters of two or three, with peak births in February and August.
The banded linsang lives in tropical forests in Malaysia , Sumatra, Java and Borneo. Slender and agile, it has a long neck and long, narrow head with a tapered snout. Its coat is short and velvety and has a overall pale color with bands of dark spots along the back. Nocturnal and solitary, it lives almost exclusively in trees. The banded linsang measures up to 36 centimeters (14inches) from head to rear end and has a thick, splotch ringed tail that about the same length as its body. It weighs about 750 grams. Its claws are completely retractile. It does not have much of an odor.
The banded linsang is agile and quick in trees and can move quite fast on the ground too. It feeds mostly on insects and small animals such as frogs, snakes and mice. It is quite fond of eggs which it crushes with its front paws, slurping up the contents. Females give birth to litters of two or three young in a burrow, in te ground or hollow of a tree with peak births in February and August. The young open their eyes after about 20 days and become independent at about four months.
The binturong, or Asian bear cat, is an arboreal civet that lives in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, Borneo and the islands of western Indonesia and the Philippine island of Palawan. Thickset and heavy-looking, it weighs between 9 and 14 kilograms and measured 61 to 95 centimeters from head to foot and has a furry 56- to 89-centimeter-long tail with a prehensile tip. The binturong’s long shaggy black coat has no markings and looks tousled and roughed up. It has tufted ears five claws on each foot that are not retractile.
Binturong belong to the Viverridae family of animals along with civets and mongooses. Designed to live in the upper canopy, the binturong it has long fingers that are ideal for grabbing onto branches and a long muscular tail that serves as a brake when the civet runs down trees and a prop when it stands on its hind legs. When it is moving through the branches it does so slowly and will not let go with its tail until it has a sure grip with its four limbs.
The binturong is sort of like Asia’s answer to the three-toed sloth. David Attenborough wrote: “It looks like a yard-long black hearth rug, and is so supremely confident in its areal domain that it moves in a very leisurely way, plucking a fruit or leaf here and there, and often does so hanging beneath a branch as happily as does clambering above it.” Binturong feed mostly on fruit as well as shoots and insects but is capable of leaping through the air to catch small animals and birds. They spend most of their nocturnal waking hours combing the rain forest canopy for food. During the day they like to curl up on a secluded branch. They have been observed leaping two meters through the air to catch a duck by landing on top of it. When it moves on the ground or straight branches it looks awkward and ambles along with a swaying gait of a plantigrade animal.
Binturong are difficult to see because they live so high in the canopy and are most active at night. It marks its territory with a strong scent and is often sensed by smell and sound rather than sight. It grunts and “chuckles” when it moves and produces a strong odor that has been compared to buttered popcorn or Fritos. It is not known how many of them there are. After a 92 day gestation period females give birth to one to three young that reach adult size in one year/
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated November 2012