The cat-like African civet is the continent's largest member of the family Viverridae.
Civets are another cat-like species. They differ from genets and cats however, clearly seen in their diets and lifestyles along with the resemblance they share with mongooses, which are dog relatives. The civet's coat is a grey color with lots of black rosettes densely covering it, along with large black patches on its neck and tail. Their sizes vary, but generally range between 1.4 and 4.5 kilograms (3 and 10 pounds) among both males and females of this mysterious species. They are mostly found alone and distinguishing between the sexes is a hard task, for the most part.
In South Africa, civets can only be found naturally and in the wild within the northern parts of the country, where the Kruger National Park is situated. The story is very different in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, where they can be found virtually anywhere. The whole southern coastline of West Africa down to Southern Angola is full of civets, and this picture is mirrored on the other side where their range stretches from Ethiopia and Kenya right down to Mozambique and the northern parts of South Africa previously mentioned, with all the land mass in between also filled with them; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and central African countries. They are one of the few common species found in the depths of the rainforest.
Civets - or Cape civets, as they are sometimes referred to - are one of those species who seem more rare and endangered than they actually are. In reality, their shy, conservative or solitary lifestyles create the illusion that they aren’t easy to find. Furthermore, they are almost solely nocturnal and thus unseen by most visitors in parks like the Kruger National Park. IUCN’s red list lists them as ‘least concern’, and this is justified by their thriving populations, especially in protected areas. Little is known about the direction of their population going forward, though.
Civets prefer more humid environments where water is more readily available and plant growth is dense and vast. They aren’t too fussy about the altitude or the type of growth in a particular habitat, but just require adequate cover in the form of shrubs or bushes and trees in which to find shelter and refuge when necessary. They are out and out omnivores, who feed regularly feed on insects and birds when they can be caught, in addition to the fruits and vegetables that they are able to forage, growing in or above the ground. They sometimes even hunt small mammals which may include the newborn young of antelope.
Civets live solitary lives and are usually most active during the night when they gather the supplies and resources needed for survival. This is naturally also when they risk being hunted or attacked themselves - a risk every animal takes. Observations of civets in captivity indicate that they are quite antisocial as adults, and only come into contact with others of their species when they absolutely have to, such as in the case of mating between sexes or when mothers are given the task of caring for their young in the early years of their lives. They are not very fond of daytime traveling, and are very rarely seen in the light of day.
Civets are creatures of habit, and this is evident in their day-to-day behavior. They follow the same routes or paths day after day, as they move from the burrows or growth cover that they find shelter in during the day, to the areas in which they hunt or forage for food during the night, leaving new footprints for observers to find. They have a very keen sense of smell, which they use to find insects or other forms of prey by hovering over the ground with their noses. Scent marking is also on their daily agenda, and they do this by leaving excrement or feces in deposits covered by dust. They tend to leave these in the edges of their home ranges, which may indicate some form of territorial behavior.
Civets going into a period of sexual activity may be more restless or agitated than usual. When suitable mates find one another, courting usually takes place in the form of aggressive and submissive displays exchanged between the two sexes, followed by genital sniffing and vocalizations before a copulatory position is taken up by both male and female. This is typically a seasonal or annual thing, and is followed by a gestation period of around 80 days or almost 3 months among most offspring bearing mothers. Once these young are raised, they go through the same process from the tender age of only a year old.
When frightened or potentially threatened, a civet may sit down and stare at the area from which the disruption came or by standing up, low off the ground with the hair on its back standing up, revealing a white shade of its dotted fur. Civets are, however, higher up on the food chain than antelope or other herbivores, and so they aren’t as worried about predators as those kinds of animals might be. They are often the ones preying, but are no match for animals such as leopards, lions or spotted hyenas and might just run for shelter when they encounter these unwelcome visitors on their paths.
South Africa is one of the top travel destinations on the continent.
Botswana is a nature enthusiast's paradise, home a wealth of wildlife.
Namibia is a vast, arid country that supports surprisingly ample wildlife.
Travel to Zambia for an authentic safari experience reminiscent of yesteryear.
Zimbabwe is known for its off-the-beaten-track safari destinations.
Mozambique's appeal lies in its pristine beaches and archipelagos.