civet

civet

[siv-it]
civet or civet cat, any of a large group of mostly nocturnal mammals of the Old World family Viverridae (civet family), which also includes the mongoose. Civets are not true cats, but the civet family is related to the cat family (Felidae). Most civets have catlike bodies, long tails, and weasellike faces. Their fur may be gray or brown, and may be marked in various patterns. All civets have scent-producing glands, located in a double pouch near the genitals. The fatty yellow secretion of these glands has a distinctive musky odor used for territorial marking. Commercially, this substance is known as civet and is used as a perfume fixative. Civet can be removed from captive animals every 14 to 20 days. Some civet species are hunted for their fur. The ground-living, or true, civets form a distinctive group within the family; these animals have a highly carnivorous diet. Most have dark spots and ringed tails. They include several Asian species (genus Viverra) and one African species (Civettictis civetta). Best known is the Indian civet, V. zibetha, of S Asia, from which most of the civet for perfume is derived. It has tawny fur with black spots and black bands on the tail. It is about 30 in. (76 cm) long, excluding the 20-in. (42-cm) tail, and about 15 in. (38 cm) high at the shoulder; it weighs up to 25 lb (11 kg). Its musk glands are greatly enlarged. Some of the ground-living civets are called linsangs and genets. The palm civets form another distinct group within the civet family. These are arboreal, largely fruit-eating animals of Africa and Asia; they are classified in several genera. The North American spotted skunk is sometimes popularly called civet but is not closely related to civets. Civets are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Viverridae.

African palm civet (Nandinia binotata).

Any of 15–20 species of long-bodied, short-legged carnivores (family Viverridae) found in Africa, southern Europe, and Asia. Catlike in appearance, civets have a thickly furred tail, small ears, and pointed snout. Civets are commonly buff or grayish, with black spots or stripes or both. They range in length from 16 to 34 in. (40–85 cm), excluding the 5–26-in. (13–66-cm) tail, and in weight from 3.3 to 24 lbs (1.5–11 kg). Civets mark territories with a greasy, musklike secretion (called civet) stored in a pouch under the tail; civet is sometimes used in the manufacture of perfumes. Usually solitary, civets feed on small animals and on vegetable matter. Five species are considered in possible danger of extinction.

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Civets are small, lithe-bodied, mostly arboreal mammals native to the tropics of Africa and Asia. Civet may also refer to the distinctive musk produced by the animal.

Taxonomy

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

In 2005, the World Wide Fund for Nature released photos taken by a night time camera trap of an unknown carnivore (nicknamed the cat-fox) on Borneo. Scientists debate whether this animal is new species of civet, or a known, but rare, species (such as Hose's Palm Civet, thought previously to be extinct).

Physical characteristics

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 (400 to 700 mm) (excluding their long tails) and in weight from about 3 to 10 lb (1 to 5 kg).

Habitat

Viverrids are native to Africa (bar 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.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the asian palm civet species is known as "Uguduwa" by the Sinhala speaking community. The term Uguduwa abd Kalawedda is used interchangeably by the Sri Lankan community to refer to the same animal. However, the term Kalawedda is mostly used to refer to a different species of the civet family, which is similar in appearance to the Ring-tailed Cat.

Vietnam and Philippines

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 feces.

Behavior

Very little is known about civets' mating habits. They breed year round, producing litters of 1-6 fully-furred babies after a gestation period of 60-81 days. Some species may have 2 litters per year. Civets are omnivorous, supplementing a meat diet (both hunted and scavenged) with fruit, eggs, and possibly roots.

Musk

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.

SARS

Virologists have speculated that the source of the SARS-CoV virus, which had a significant outbreak in Asia in 2003, can be traced back to a particular species of civet, the Masked Palm Civet. Many people hunt the Masked Palm Civet for its meat; many virologists believe that through these practices the SARS virus was first introduced to humans. However, the possibility remains that the virus may have been contracted in some other unknown animal before infecting the Masked Palm Civet. Since this information has been exposed to the public, the ingestion of civets in Asia has dropped drastically, going from 51% of people that do not eat civets to 72%.

References

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