What Exactly is the Civet Cat?
The civet is a mostly nocturnal animal, from the Viverridae family, found in Africa, , and the East Indies. It is approximately 17-28 inches in length, excluding its long tail, and weighs about 3 to 10 pounds. Although classified within the Carnivera order, the palm civet of Southern Asia (named because it can be found in palms), is a fruit-eating mammal. Although the Viverridae family is distantly related to the Felidae family of which the common domestic cat is a member, the civet "cat" is not a cat. Indeed, it is more related to the mongoose than to any cat.
The civet is a cunning-looking little animal, with a catlike body, long legs, a long tail, and a masked face resembling a raccoon or weasel. In some areas of the world, it has become an endangered species, hunted for its fur or as a food source. The civet's taste for fruit has been its downfall in at least one area of southeast Asia; as early as the 18th century, the durian fruit was also called "civet fruit," because it was used as bait for catching civets.
The civet not only is fond of fruit, but has had a love-hate relationship with growers of a particular coffee bean in Viet Nam. Civets love this bean, and search out the tastiest examples with their long, foxlike nose. The hardiest beans survive the digestive process of the civet, and are prized in caphe cut chon, or fox-dung coffee (Vietnamese call the civet "fox.")
Unfortunately for the civets, their habitat has been razed for new coffee orchards, and their decline has furthered because of the Vietnamese appetite for barbequed civet meat. A restraunteur admitted that he was not troubled by the scarcity of Caphe cut chon, saying that he'd rather "eat the fox." Actually, the new scarcity of fox-dung coffee beans has been a boon for entrepreneurs who market fake caphe cut chon as the real thing. However, that doesn't help the fate of the civet cats who are killed for food.
Last, the civet has been the source of a highly-valued musk, used as a stablizing agent in perfumes. Although civets were at one time killed for their musk, they more recently have been "recycled" for this purpose. Also called "civet," excretions are scraped from the civet's perianeal glands, a painful process. Both male and female cats produce these strong-smelling excretions. At least one civet cat farmer in Ethiopia raises civets for their musk, although this practice is dying out as perfumers move toward using synthetic fixatives.
Maligned, abused, and beleageured, the civet cat has an unknown future on many fronts.
But it is not a cat.