The staff and students based at our WEI base camp in Greater Kruger National Park were lucky enough to meet a secretive resident of our camp.
The African Civet (Civettictis civetta) is primarily a nocturnal predator of the family Viverridae and is the largest member of this family in Africa. Their facial markings and habits have been likened to that of the north American trash panda or Racoons.
Civets primarily rely on their sense of smell and sound although they do have excellent vision. We can see in this video that it is relying primarily on its sense of smell and hearing to navigate around the camp seeking scraps or prey animals to feed on. Although it is wary of the humans it is very bold in its exploration only retreating when startled by a loud sound or movement.
Their fur is course and wiry with dark and light coloration composed of stripes, spots and blotches which creates a cryptic pattern allowing it to blend into dense undergrowth and night time shadows. This is especially important as they spend the daylight hours resting in thick grass or under vegetation. They have a dorsal crest of longer hair running along their spine and when threatened they will cause this crest to erect and make itself look bigger in order to intimidate the threat.
As we see here, Civets mark their territories with secretions from cheek glands and an anal gland. They also make use of civetries depositing their droppings in large piles in order to leave physical and scent marking which claims their territory. Their marking points are commonly located along a set route which are within 100m of their civetry. Civetiries commonly contain the bones of small animals, rings from millipedes and vegetable matter including fruits and seeds. The role of civets in the dispersal of seeds in African woodland is currently being studied.
They are omnivorous eating both plants and animals including rodents, eggs, fruits, seeds, berries, insects and reptiles. These animals are known for their tolerance of toxic prey items, eating millipedes’ some amphibians and even snakes. The millidedes or ‘shongololo’, are known to contain both hydrochloric acid and hydrogen cyanide. This would normally be enough to deter any predator but the civet seems to be immune or resistant to these toxins readily consuming them as a regular prey item.
The presence of green grass in their droppings has been associated with the consumption of snakes and amphibians. It is possible that the ingestion of the grass helps the civet to process and excrete the potentially harmful toxins contained in these prey species.
These beautiful creatures are classified by the IUCN as “least concern” due to their adaptability, wide variety of diet and their tolerance of human encroachment on their natural habitat. They are unfortunately one of the most abundantly found mammals in bushmeat markets and are hunted for their fur, skulls, meat and the secretions of their anal gland. These secretions are highly prized in the perfume industry as it contains civetone, a pungent oily secretion. This drives the capture and farming of civets in order to obtain this substance. This product is primarily exported from African countries to the European perfume industry. The farmed population is completely captured from the wild and the conditions and methods of this industry are questionable at best especially since a synthetic alternative has been available for almost 70 years.
Fortunately, the African civet population currently seems stable, their adaptability and small size playing in their favour allowing them to persist where other predators no longer occur.