What is a Civet?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A civet is a mammal in the family Viverridae. The tropical animals are found in Asia, Africa, and parts of the Mediterranean, and they have long been prized by humans as a source of a very distinct musk, also known as civet. Civet musk is used in perfume blends to create a rich, earthy odor, and although it can be overwhelming on its own, the musk can be appealing when blended. Civets have also been used as a source of food and furs, although these practices are less common than they once were.

Civet musk is used in some perfumes.
Civet musk is used in some perfumes.

At a casual glance, a civet could be mistaken for an arboreal otter, or a strange sort of cat. The animals have elongated, slender bodies, tapering faces, and long tails which are often fluffy. They are omnivorous, feeding on an assortment of beetles, insects, and fruits in their natural environment. Most civets are also nocturnal, preferring to be active at night. As a result, they have highly refined hearing, smell, and vision to assist them in night hunting.

There are over 20 species of animal which are classified as civets, including genets and civet cats like the palm civet. Linsangs and binturongs are also considered to be civets. The animals are closely related to cats, although the two animal families are different. Like cats, civets will adapt to a wide range of territories, although they prefer to live in the canopies of forested regions. The animals are most widely found in jungles, which provide ample sources of food and cover for them.

Civets appear to be able to breed year round, and they bear young in small litters. In some regions, they can prove to be a nuisance, since they enjoy nesting in thatched roofs. They have short, strong legs which are well adapted to hunting and sometimes fishing as well, with nonretractable claws to assist in climbing.

Because civets tend to favor well forested regions, some civet species are considered threatened or endangered due to habitat depletion. Many tropical and subtropical forests around the world are heavily managed for their valuable timber and plant materials. As a result, civets and other creatures are driven deeper into the forest, making civet sightings much more rare. Since civets are naturally shy, they are usually tracked with the aid of hidden cameras, and it can be difficult to get an accurate count of civets in a region. This makes it difficult to determine how threatened many civet species are.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@sunnySkys - It is sad when species become extinct because of our own carelessness. I hope this won't happen to civets.

Anyway, I read an article about something a bit bizarre recently: civet coffee. There is a coffee that sells for an exorbitant price ($100 a cup) that civets help make.

There is a certain type of coffee cherry that civets like to eat. People then harvest the partially digested cherries from civet excrement and make coffee out of it.

I think this sounds a bit gross, but supposedly civet coffee is very tasty.


I've never heard of civets before, and I doubt I'll ever see one since I don't live in an area of the world where civets live. However, I was able to watch a video of a very cute baby civet online! If you want to to watch a video of a civet, YouTube is a good place to start.

After seeing the adorable civet baby, I'm sad this species might be harmed by our forest "management" practices in certain areas of the world.

I really think it's important to try to preserve as many species as possible. More study should definitely be done to find out about the civet population.

Post your comments
Forgot password?