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What Is an African Civet?

African civets living in West Africa breed year round.
Deforestation has drastically reduced the African civit population.
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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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Civettictis civetta, or African civet, is a primarily nocturnal, omnivorous mammal in the Viverridae family. African civets inhabit southern and central Africa, living mainly near permanent bodies of water and among the tall grass and thickets of forests and savannahs. They are solitary creatures, except during mating. Civets communicate through various calls, scent marking, and leaving dung piles. Poaching, deforestation, and use in traditional medicine and in the perfume industry have drastically reduced the civet population.

The six subspecies of African civet, which are closely related to the mongoose, spend the day sleeping in the tall, thick grass of southern and central African forest and savannah regions. They are most active just before sunset until midnight and may be seen in open areas during this time. Small mammals, eggs, carrion, millipedes, snakes, and plants make up most of the African civet's diet.

The fully grown African civet is long and stocky, between 41-70 inches (104-177.8 centimeters) long, including its 17-24 inch (43-61 centimeter) tail, and weighs 26-33 pounds (12-15 kilograms). It wears a raccoon-like mask, which extends across its small, black eyes and down a pointy muzzle. The body is covered with a double-layered coat of brown-spotted, silver, or cream fur and two black stripes around the neck. A short mane extends down the back along the spine to the tail. The mane becomes erect when the animal is startled, making the African civet appear larger than it actually is.

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African civets living in West Africa breed year round. Those in central and southern Africa breed during the warm season, or from March to January, when insect populations increase. Male and female civets reach sexual maturity at about seven months. Most females have two or three litters every year and may produce up to four pups in each litter. Female civets with pups make their nests in underground holes left by other animals.

Following a gestational period of 60-70 days, African civet pups are born with soft, dark fur and light markings. They can crawl at birth, and by five days old are able to walk. Mothers nurse the pups for about six weeks. They emerge from the nest 18 days after birth. Pups begin catching small prey by eight weeks, although the mother brings them the bulk of their solid food until they perfect their hunting abilities.

Territory is marked by excreting a musky scent through the perineal gland and onto rocks or other objects. To attract a mate, African civets leave piles of dung scented with secretions from the anal gland. These animals may vocalize to communicate with other civets or call for a mate. The most common vocalization is a "ha, ha, ha" sound, although they are capable of growling, screaming, and coughing-spitting.

African civet fur is used in some traditional African folk medicine. Poachers frequently hunt civet to provide fur to this market. Deforestation of civet habitat and poaching have dramatically decreased the population of these animals in the wild, however. In the past, particularly before the advent of synthetic musk scent, the African civet's perineal glands were expressed for use in some perfume formulations; this practice still occurs today, although much less frequently.

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