African Civet, Civettictis civetta
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Viverridae
in part
  • Chrotogale
  • Cynogale
  • Diplogale
  • Hemigalus
  • Arctogalidia
  • Macrogalidia
  • Paguma
  • Paradoxurus
  • Civettictis
  • Viverra
  • Viverricula

A civet (pronounced /ˈsɪvɨt/) is a small, lithe-bodied, mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical Asia and Africa, especially the tropical forests. The term civet applies to over a dozen different mammal species. Most of the species diversity is found in southeast Asia. The most well-known civet species is the African civet, Civettictis civetta, which historically has been the main species from which was obtained a musky scent used in perfumery. The word civet may also refer to the distinctive musky scent produced by the animals.

Civets are also called "toddycats" in English and "musang" in Malay. The latter may lead to some confusion as "musang" also refers to foxes, but civets are more commonly encountered by humans.



The common name is used for a variety of carnivorous mammalian species, mostly of the family Viverridae. (The African Palm Civet (Nandinia binotata) is genetically distinct and belongs in its own monotypic family, Nandiniidae).

Physical characteristics

Illustration of an African Civet

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

The civet produces a musk (also called civet) 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 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.[1]


Viverrids are native to Africa (except the area immediately south of the Mediterranean), Madagascar, the Iberian Peninsula, southern China, 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.[2]

Sri Lanka, Bangladesh

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. In Bangladesh and in Bangla speaking areas of India this animal is known as "Khatash" and is now extremely rare in all parts of Bangladesh.

Relationship with humans


Kopi Luwak, also known as 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 partially digested by the Asian Palm Civet, then harvested from its fecal matter.[3][4] The civets digest the flesh of the coffee cherries but pass the beans inside, leaving their stomach enzymes to go to work on the beans, which adds to the coffee's prized aroma and flavor.[3] Only around 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of civet coffee make it to the market each year, and 1 pound (0.45 kg) can cost up to $600 in some parts of the world and about $100 a cup in others.[5]


Some of the indigenous people in Peninsular Malaysia, the Orang Asli, may occasionally keep pet civets.

Urban environments

Palm civets often venture into urban and suburban environments, with people often complaining about civet feces or noise from the animals climbing on roofs [6]. Some studies have undertaken to examine and mitigate human-animal conflict in these cases. The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity at the National University of Singapore has adopted the palm civet as its mascot and volunteers call themselves "Toddycats"

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

There has been some speculation that the source of SARS-CoV, which had a significant outbreak in Asia in 2003, can be traced back to a particular species of civet, the Masked Palm Civet.[7]


  1. ^ The Straight Dope: Does civet come from tortured cats? Does kopi luwak coffee come from pre-eaten beans?
  2. ^ Mathai, J. (2010). "Hose's Civet: Borneo's mysterious carnivore". Nature Watch 18/4: 2-8.
  3. ^ a b Brewed Coffee: Civet Coffee, 30 November 2006,, retrieved 2009-05-25 
  4. ^ Onishi, Norimitsu (17 April 2010). "From Dung to Coffee Brew With No Aftertaste". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ From Civet Poop to Great Coffee,, retrieved 2010-07-22 
  6. ^ The great 'musang' stakeout, Wild Singapore, 2009
  7. ^ Calisher, Charles H. et al. "Bats Prove To Be Rich Reservoirs for Emerging Viruses." Microbe (American Society of Microbiology). Vol. 3, No. 11, 2008, p. 526. 6 January 2009.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • civet — civet …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • civet — [ sivɛ ] n. m. • 1636 « ragoût aux cives »; civéXIIe; de cive ♦ Ragoût (de lièvre, lapin, gibier) cuit avec du vin rouge, des oignons. Lapin en civet. « On servit un civet de garenne avec une sauce au sang battu » (Quignard). Civet de chevreuil,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Civet — Civ et (s[i^]v [e^]t), n. [F. civette (cf. It. zibetto) civet, civet cat, fr. LGr. zape tion, fr. Ar. zub[=a]d, zab[=a]d, civet.] 1. A substance, of the consistence of butter or honey, taken from glands in the anal pouch of the civet ({Viverra… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • civet — CIVET. s. m. Espèce de ragoût fait de chair de lièvre. Faire un civet. Manger un civet. Un civet de lièvre. Mettre un lièvre en civet …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • civet — [siv′it] n. [Fr civette < It zibetto < Ar zabād] 1. a yellowish, fatty substance with a musklike scent, secreted by a gland near the genitals of the civet cat and used in making some perfumes 2. the civet cat 3. its fur …   English World dictionary

  • Civet — Civ et, v. t. To scent or perfume with civet. Cowper [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Civet — Diminutif de cive (= oignon), a dû désigner un producteur ou un marchand d oignons. On le rencontre surtout dans l Isère et la Saône et Loire, ainsi que dans la Mayenne. Le sens est sans doute le même pour Civel (44, 56, 43). A noter cependant qu …   Noms de famille

  • civet — 1530s, from Fr. civette (15c.), ultimately (with It. zibetto, M.L. zibethum, Med.Gk. zapetion) via lost intermediate forms from Arabic zabad civet, said to be related to zabad foam, froth, zubd cream …   Etymology dictionary

  • civet — ► NOUN 1) a slender nocturnal cat native to Africa and Asia. 2) a strong musky perfume obtained from the scent glands of the civet. ORIGIN Arabic …   English terms dictionary

  • Civet — Cet article concerne le plat. Pour l espèce animale des civettes, voir Viverridae. Pour le terme économique des nouveaux pays émergents, voir CIVETS. Civet Civet de marcassin …   Wikipédia en Français

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