Civettictis civettaAfrican civet

Geographic Range

Civettictis civetta, the African civet, inhabits the savannahs and the forests of southern and central Africa. The African civet is rarely found in arid regions; however, it can be found along river systems that project into the arid areas of Niger, Mali, and Chad. (Ray 1995).


African civets live both in the forest and in open country, but they seem to require a covering of tall grasses or thicket to provide safety in the daytime. They rarely can be found in arid regions of Africa. Instead, they are usually found close to permanent water systems. (Ray 1995)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Civettictis civetta has many unmistakable features, including large hindquarters, a low-head stance, and short (approximately 1-4 inch) mane which extends down its back. This mane becomes erect when the animal is excited or scared, making it look larger. Individual civets are recognized by the details of their dark face masks, which resemble those of a raccoon, and also white neck stripes. Their bodies are silver or cream in color with brownish black markings and spots. The body length is 24 to 36 inches, with a 17 to 24 inch tail. Unlike the digital and palmar pads, the civets central pads possess no hair. This Civet has five digits with long, non-retractable claws. They have large, broad molars suitable for crushing and grinding. The dental formula is 3/3, 1/1, 4/4, 2/2= 40.(Ray 1995, Animal Breeder 1999, Schliemann 1990). (Ray, 1995; Schliemann, 1990)

  • Range mass
    12 to 15 kg
    26.43 to 33.04 lb


The average lifespan of the African civet is 15 to 20 years. There is no favored breeding season in West Africa. The breeding season in Kenya and Tanzania occurs in March through October. In southern Africa, breeding occurs in the warm, wet summer months from August to January, when there are a large number of insects. Captive females first give birth at about 1 year of age. Females are polyestrous and are able to have two or three litters a year. There are usually 1 to 4 young in a litter. Mothers have six nipples to feed their young.

Young civets are born in advanced stages relative to most carnivores. They are fully furred, although the fur is darker, shorter, and softer than adult fur. Their markings are more poorly defined than those of adults. Young are able to crawl at birth, and the hind legs support the body by the 5th day. They start leaving the nest between 17-18 days, and the first sign of play behavior is seen at about 2 weeks. The young are completely dependent on mother's milk for about 6 weeks. After about 42 days, their mother provides them solid food. By the second month, they are catching food for themselves. The behavior of mouth suckling, in which the young licks their mother's mouth and drink her saliva, is seen just before the mother begins to provide the young with solid food.

The mother transports the young in her mouth, clasping them by the back or by the neck. Captive mothers sometimes kill and devour their young at birth. (Animal Breeder 1999, Ray 1995, Schliemann 1990)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    65 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    365 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    213 days



These civets are predominately nocturnal, but they are sometimes seen in the morning or afternoon on cloudy days. The peak activity occurs 1-2 hours before sunset until about midnight. There is an increased tendency for both sexes to move around when sexually active. The African civet sleeps in the dense grass of thickets during the day, and only mothers with young have a nest. This nest is located in holes made by other animals or under tangled roots.

The African civet is solitary, except when breeding. Knowledge of the habits of the civets is limited because they are nocturnal and have a secretive life style. Although the civet is solitary, it has a variety of visual, olfactory, and auditory means of communication. They mark their territory by crouching down and pressing the perineal glands against an object. Furthermore, civets also deposit their feces in special piles. These dung piles have include anal gland secretions that provide an additional means to mark their area and possibly attract a partner.

The civets make three types of sounds -- a growl, a cough-spit, and a scream -- but the most commonly heard is the "ha ha ha" used in making contact. (Ray 1995, Schliemann 1990, Nowak 1999)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

C. civetta is omnivorous. It consumes mainly wild fruit, carrion, rodents, insects (crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and termites), eggs, reptile, and birds. The African civet is able to eat items that are usually poisnous or distasteful to most mammals, including the fruit of Stychnos, millipedes, and highly-decayed carrion. Civets do not use their paws for catching prey; instead, they overpower the prey with their teeth. Civets display various hunting behaviors. The prey may be shaken so violently that the spinal column is broken or a rodent may be bitten and thrown around. (Animal Breeders 1999, Richardson and Levitan 1994, Schliemann 1990)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In the past, the African civets were often kept cruelly for the secretions of their perineal glands. The secretion, called civet, when highly diluted could make a pleasant perfume. For many centuries, the civet played an important economical role in the economy of Europe, North Africa, and near the Middle East. The trade for civet musk has decreased remarkably. However, in 1988, it was reported that over 2,700 captive civets in Ethiopia were producing the musk. The civet musk, mainly exported to France was selling for $438 per kg. (Nowak 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Civets are a nuisance to farmers because they forage in the henhouses and even kill lambs.(Schliemann 1990)

Conservation Status


Tuteja Shalu (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


"Animal Breeders Exchange" (On-line). Accessed October 13, 1999 at

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Vol III. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Ray, J. 1995. Civettictis civetta.. Mammalian Speicies, 488: 1-7.

Richardson, P., C. Levitan. 1994. Tolerance of Aardwolves to Defense Secretions of Trinvervitermes Trinervoides. Journal of Mammalogy, 7(1): 84-90.

Schliemann, H. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol III.. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing.