The African Civet
It's a well-accepted fact that the African Civet is a relatively common inhabitant in our neck of the woods. That said, it's still a real treat to see one of these elusive creatures make an appearance during one of our evening game viewing expeditions, as our Californian guests did during October this year.
Civets are strictly nocturnal and choose to spend their days snoozing in the branches of trees and bushes, out of harm's way. They come down to the ground only for a limited time every evening to feed on insects, eggs, frogs, crabs and plants – in fact almost anything. Unfortunately as their habitat decreases, they have also been known to rummage in the bins on the edges of suburbia.
Our civets, however, are free from such demeaning behaviours. With luck and the enthusiasm of your ranger, he (or she) may point out one of their dung middens during your safari and explain the contents of a civet's last meal, along with the workings of their digestive system.
Civets deposit their dung in middens which also serve as territorial markers, and these piles will contain bits of undigested skin, grass and berries. To lovers of Kopi Luwak, this is where your cuppa comes from! This type of brew is made from coffee beans which are fed to the civets and harvested at the other end of the process. Although this beverage has become increasingly popular worldwide and causes the animal no harm, the conditions in which civets are kept in these coffee factories has been under fire for some time now, leading to an international outcry against its production.
Similarly the greasy substance, called simply 'civetone', which was once used in perfumes, has now been replaced by an artificially-manufactured substitute. This odorous substance is rubbed onto trees and grass as an added indicator of the civet's domain and originates from the perineal glands of the animal.
Despite its commercial viability, civet populations remain stable, although habitat loss is certainly taking its toll on this species, and our game viewing night drives are one of the best opportunities to spot one in the wild.
Keep your eyes peeled for the shuffling movement of this cat-like animal, which is actually closely related to the weasel and mongoose. They are about 40cm high, and covered in a handsome brown and black coat of dots and stripes, with a black mask like a raccoon. Each civet has their own unique coat pattern, and they usually travel alone.