Back to Main Page

What are civets?

It's a difficult question, because civets are impossible to describe.1

a binturong, closely related to the civet

But we do know that:

Civets are omnivorous, supplementing a meat diet (both hunted and scavenged) with fruit, eggs, and possibly roots. One of the Common Palm Civet's favorite fruits is the coffee "berry." The coffee bean within often survives, and it is sometimes gathered and sold as caphe cut chon ("fox-dung coffee") in Vietnam or Kopi Luwak ("civet coffee") in Indonesia.2 Such coffee can fetch high prices.3

It has been suggested that the practice of eating palm civets may have resulted in the SARS virus outbreak of 2003. In January 2004, Guangdong province in China banned sales of civet cats (they are not cats) and ordered the slaughter of all captive civets. In January 2004 the United States announced an embargo on the importation of civets.2

Civets are mistakenly referred to as cats sometimes. We will follow that tradition here. Felis lybica can be called a civet cat.4 (The following are not civets: onca, psipsina, garfield, and crookshanks.)

The French have their own idea of what a civet is:

a Pallas' cat, not actually related to the civet

Some commentators have referred to Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa as the "CIVETS" countries, comparing them to the civet, a carnivorous mammal that eats and partially digests coffee cherries, passing a transformed coffee bean that fetches high prices.5 Civets do indeed live in Indonesia and Vietnam.

A compound called civetone with chemical formula C17H30O comes from the African civet and is used in perfume.6


  1. British Broadcasting Corporation. "Module 2: Water." Look Around You.
  2. "Civet." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
  3. "From Dung to Coffee Brew With No Aftertaste." New York Times, 17 April 2010.
  4. "Civet cat." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
  5. "CIVETS." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
  6. "Civetone." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.