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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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%.


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