African civet (Civettictis civetta)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Genera included
Genera excluded
(These carnivorans are not considered civets)

A civet (/ˈsɪvɪt/) is a small, lean, mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical Asia and Africa, especially the tropical forests. The term civet applies to over a dozen different species, mostly from the family Viverridae. Most of the species diversity is found in southeast Asia. The best-known species is the African civet, Civettictis civetta,[1] which historically has been the main species from which a musky scent used in perfumery, also referred to as "civet", was obtained.


The common name is used for a variety of carnivoran mammal species, mostly of the family Viverridae. The African palm civet (Nandinia binotata) is genetically distinct and belongs in its own monotypic family, Nandiniidae.

The Malagasy civet (Fossa fossana) belongs to a separate family Eupleridae, with other carnivorans of Madagascar. The Malagasy civet was to be placed in the subfamily Hemigalinae with the banded palm civets and then in its own subfamily, Fossinae, because of similarities with others in the group pointed out by Gregory, but it is now classified as a member of the subfamily Euplerinae, after Pocock pointed out more similarities with that one.[2]

Civets are also called "toddycats" in English, "Mara Patti" in Malayalam, "musang" in Malay and Indonesian, and urulǣvā (උරුලෑවා) in Sinhalese. There can be confusion among speakers of Malay because the indigenous word "musang" has been mistakenly applied to foxes by printed media instead of "rubah", which is the correct but lesser-known term.

A minority of writers use "civet" to refer only to Civettictis, Viverra and Viverricula civets.[3] But in more common usage in English, the name also covers Chrotogale, Cynogale, Diplogale, Hemigalus, Arctogalidia, Macrogalidia, Paguma and Paradoxurus civets.

South Asia

In Sri Lanka, the Asian palm civet species is known as "uguduwa" by the Sinhala-speaking community. The terms uguduwa and kalawedda are used interchangeably by the Sri Lankan community to refer to the same animal. However, the term kalawedda is mostly used to refer to another species in the civet family, the small Indian civet.

Sri Lanka also has an endemic civet species called golden palm civet. Recently this species was split into 3 separate endemic species as Paradoxurus montanus, P. aureus, and P. stenocephalus. In Bangladesh and Bengali-speaking areas of India, civets are known as "khatash" (Bengali: খাটাশ) for the smaller species and "bagdash" (Bengali: বাগডাশ) for the larger ones and is now extremely rare in Bangladesh (in the Khulna area of the country, the animal is also known as "shairel"). In Assamese this animal is known as "zohamola" (Assamese: জহামলা) which literally means "to have zoha aromatic feces". In Maharashtra Marathi-speaking areas of India, civets are known as "Udmanjar" (Marathi: उदमांजर).

In Kerala, the Malayalam speaking areas of India, the small Indian civet (Viverricula indica) is called "veruk" (വെരുക്‌). Interestingly, 'veruku' (வெருகு) in Tamil meant 'cat', particularly during the Sangam period (~ 100 BCE to 400 CE).

Physical characteristics

Civets have a broadly cat-like general appearance, though the muzzle is extended and often pointed, rather like that of an otter, mongoose or even possibly a ferret. They range in length from about 43 to 71 cm (17 to 28 in) (excluding their long tails) and in weight from about 1.4 to 4.5 kg (3 to 10 lb).

The civet produces a musk (named civet after the animal) which is highly valued as a fragrance and stabilizing agent for perfume. Both male and female civets produce the strong-smelling secretion, which is produced by the civet's perineal glands. 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 World Animal Protection, 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.[4]


A captured civet in India

Viverrids are native to sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, the Iberian Peninsula, southern China, South and Southeast Asia. Favoured habitats include woodland, savanna, and mountain biome. 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.[5]


Civets are unusual among feliforms, and carnivora in general, in that they are omnivores or even herbivores. Many species primarily eat fruit. Some also use flower nectar as a major source of energy. As human habitat has increased, civets tend to prey on livestock and smaller domesticated animals, such as fowls, ducks, rabbits, cats, etc.


A caged civet

Kopi luwak (also called caphe cut chon (fox-dung coffee), in Vietnam, and kape alamid, in the Philippines) is coffee that is prepared using coffee cherries that have been eaten and partly digested by the Asian palm civet, then harvested from its fecal matter.[6][7] The civets digest the flesh of the coffee cherries but pass the pits (beans) inside, where stomach enzymes affect the beans, which adds to the coffee's prized aroma and flavor.[6] 0.5 kg (1 lb) can cost up to $600 in some parts of the world and about $100 a cup in others.[8] This demand has led to civet farms on which the civets are fed a diet composed almost exclusively of such cherries, causing them to become severely malnourished. Farm conditions are also routinely described as deplorable. Filipino and Vietnamese oversight of these farms is non-existent.[9]

Relationship with humans

The Malay civet is found in many habitats, including forests, secondary habitats, cultivated land, and the outskirts of villages, and is highly adaptable to human disturbances, including "selective logging" (partial forest removal).[10]

African civets (Civettictis civetta) are listed as Least Concern, but in certain regions of Africa the population is declining due to hunting, direct and indirect poisoning, and an increase in large-scale farm fences that limit population flow. They are also seen as comparatively abundant options in the bushmeat trade.[11]

Himalayan palm civets sold for meat in local markets of China's Yunnan province carried the SARS virus from horseshoe bats to humans,[12] resulting in the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak.

Civets are also raised in captivity by humans for two reasons. In Asia, they are raised to process coffee beans. In Ethiopia, they are raised in captivity to collect their "civet" paste to be used in making perfume.[13][14]

Urban environments

Palm civets often venture into cities and suburbs, with people often complaining about civet faeces and the noise of the animals' climbing on roofs. Some studies have been undertaken to examine and mitigate such human–animal conflict.[15]


in As You Like It, Act II scene 2, (William Shakespeare, 1599) the civet cat is mentioned as the "uncleanly" source of courtiers' perfumes.


  1. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Civet" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 402.
  2. Anjali Goswami; Anthony Friscia (29 July 2010). Carnivoran Evolution: New Views on Phylogeny, Form and Function. Cambridge University Press. pp. 68–70. ISBN 978-1-139-48853-2.
  3. Gaubert, P.; Cordeiro-Estrela, P. (2006). "Phylogenetic systematics and tempo of evolution of the Viverrinae (Mammalia, Carnivora, Viverridae) within feliformians: Implications for faunal exchanges between Asia and Africa". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 41 (2): 266–278. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2006.05.034. PMID 16837215.
  4. The Straight Dope: Does civet come from tortured cats? Does kopi luwak coffee come from pre-eaten beans?
  5. Mathai, J. (2010). "Hose's Civet: Borneo's mysterious carnivore". Nature Watch 18/4: 2-8.
  6. Brewed Coffee: Civet Coffee, 30 November 2006, retrieved 25 May 2009
  7. Onishi, Norimitsu (17 April 2010). "From Dung to Coffee Brew With No Aftertaste". The New York Times.
  8. From Civet Poop to Great Coffee, retrieved 22 July 2010
  9. "The Disturbing Secret Behind the World's Most Expensive Coffee". National Geographic. 29 April 2016.
  10. Jennings, A. P.; Seymour, A. S.; Dunstone, N. (2006). "Ranging behaviour, spatial organization and activity of the Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga) on Buton Island, Sulawesi". Journal of Zoology. 268 (1): 63–71. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2005.00023.x.
  11. Swanepoel, Lourens; Camacho, Gerrie; Power, Richard; Amiard, Pamela; Do Linh San, Emmanuel (2016). "A conservation assessment of Civettictis civetta". ResearchGate. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  12. Lau, Susanna K.P.; et al. (2005). "Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-like virus in Chinese horseshoe bats". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (39): 14040–14145. Bibcode:2005PNAS..10214040L. doi:10.1073/pnas.0506735102. PMC 1236580. PMID 16169905.
  13. Tadesse Habtamu Tessema (2019). Civet husbandry in Ethiopia. LAP Lambert Academic Publishing.
  14. Desta, Takele Taye (2019). "Enhanced enrichment is inevitable to carry on the legacy of African civet (Civettictis civetta) captive farming". Biodiversitas Journal of Biological Diversity. 20 (6). doi:10.13057/biodiv/d200613. S2CID 195564862.
  15. "The great 'musang' stakeout". Wild Singapore. 2009.
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