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What is a civet and why should we care?

April 4th is the first ever World Civet Day and Asia for Animals is supporting Network Member Organization, The Civet Project, in sharing the wonder and importance of civets, the challenges facing them in welfare and conservation and what you can do to learn more and help! 


World Civet Day and The Civet Project

Owston’s civet is an Endangered species native to Vietnam, Laos, and Southern China. This species stands out among other civets for being more active on the ground foraging for earthworms instead of climbing trees for fruits.  On April 4th, 2019, the first conservation action plan for Owston’s civet was signed and the meaningful date was made World Civet Day by The Civet Project to celebrate all civets. The Civet Project takes a holistic approach to support both in-situ and ex-situ conservation via research, awareness campaigns, policy advocacy, and conservation breeding. Founder of The Civet Project - Dr Jes Hooper, PhD, studies the relationship between humans and civets and is leading the movement to end animal cruelty in civet coffee production, tourism, and pet trafficking. 



Listen to the AfA podcast episode hosted by Elliot Carr - Lead Coordinator of Sanctuaries and Rescue Centers Coalition - in a conversation with Dr Jes Hooper about her work and what you can do to support civets! 


Always remember that as a consumer and a traveler - you have power, you have a voice, and it’s important to speak up (against animal cruelty) ”
- Jes Hooper

BUT What is a civet?

The most exploited species for the civet coffee and tourism industry is the Asian palm civet (Paradoxus hermaphroditus). The rarest of all civets is the Malabar large-spotted civet (Viverra civettina). The world’s largest and the only civet species with a prehensile tail is the binturong (Arctictis binturong). The African civets (Civettictis civetta) were the main species hunted for their secretions, also termed “civet”, used to give a musky odor in perfumery. These are four of the 33, or 34, or 35, or 38 species in the Viverridae family, depending on whom you ask! 

Paradoxus hermaphroditus © subhashc

Viverra civettina © heritageofchicalim

Arctictis binturong © cirolana

Civettictis civetta © Michal Sloviak

The Viverridae family includes civets, genets, oyans, and linsangs. These are small, nocturnal carnivores distributed across Africa and Asia. “Carnivores” because they are classified under the order Carnivora; but like bears - most civets are adapted to an omnivorous diet. They feed on fruits and insects, opportunistically supplemented with small animals. Interestingly, for this group of animals, the combination of their fruit-eating habits and their carnivorous dentition makes them competent seed dispersers. 


And why should we care? 

Unlike herbivores’ flat, wide, grinding teeth that can crush seeds, civets’ teeth are small and sharp - allowing seeds to stay intact and viable while passing through the digestive tract. Ingested seeds with the outer layer stripped off can germinate faster and are also brought further away from the parent plant because civets tend to roam a wider home range than herbivores. And did you know - that civets do not randomly place their scats? They prefer defecating in open spaces where they have a specific spot - called “civetrines” (civet + latrine) that they regularly come back to. This behavior has implications for restoring degraded forests by facilitating the recruitment of plants to colonize an open area with enhanced seed survival! 


Seed germinating from Southeast Asian palm civet (Paradoxus musangus) scats. Source: Tze Kwan Fung


What are the problems?

The frugivorous nature, and carnivorous digestive tracts, combined with their adaptability and wide distribution in human-altered environments are some factors that make the Asian palm civets the main victim in the civet coffee production and tourism industry. Civet coffee, or “kopi luwak” in Indonesia, is purportedly a luxury item sought after by coffee connoisseurs for the smoother and less bitter taste, and lower caffeine content, after being partially digested in civet guts. However, civet coffee is not rare, nor unique; plus difficult to authenticate before purchase - making the price of a civet coffee (40-80 times more expensive than normal coffee) a case of market manipulation. 


There is no shortage of reports exposing animal abuse in the civet coffee industry; with all of the farms or tourist attractions violating the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare. Wild-caught civets are force-fed only coffee cherries in small cages with no access to other food or water which often results in animals suffering caffeine toxicity and malnutrition. Animals sitting in their own excrement and on metal mesh in cages that are stacked against one another create an extremely stressful environment and a biosecurity hazard. Such is the common scene at a farm or a wildlife market. Hence, one can imagine the high turnover rate at these places and how much cognitive dissonance is required not to demand the banning of civet farms. 


Cheap and easy to mass-produce snares (left); Asian palm civet caught in a snare (right).


With high mortality and low success rates in breeding civets, farm owners have to source their animals from poachers to sustain their business. Poachers lay out snares in the forests, snares that are cheap to make and indiscriminate - they can severely injure many animals of different species at once. Because of the large number of snares deployed, sometimes animals caught in snares are forgotten to be collected, leading to a long and painful death. Although the Asian palm civet is listed by the IUCN Red List as Least Concern, the sustainability of the population by removal from the wild is unknown. For other more vulnerable species like tiger (Panthera tigris) and Owston’s civet (Carthogale owstoni), however, indiscriminate snaring is a real threat to their conservation. 


There are more (common palm) civets in captivity openly on sale in wildlife markets than there are quotas available for wild harvest” 
- Jes Hooper

What can you do

The Civet Project says this is how you can help:

  • Avoid interacting images of intimate human-civet interactions (or other wildlife) online- see AfA’s Social Media Animal Cruelty’s advice on reporting online animal abuse.

  • Do not buy civet products or include civet coffee farm tours in travel itineraries, and actively tell tour operators why visitors don’t want to see this.

  • Report animal cruelty to local authorities and leave negative reviews on travel review sites.

  • Help the Civet project and Sign petition to end civet cruelty.

  • Host a documentary screening to help raise awareness. Title: "Civet Coffee: From Rare to Reckless", The Civet Project’s investigatory look into the civet coffee trade and its welfare, conservation and human health consequences will be released on Ecoflix from April 4th, with all funds going to The  Civet Project. Watch the trailer!  You can also join a screening near you online, in the UK or Vietnam. The documentary will also be available on YouTube for free from June 30th. If any AfA Network Member Organizations are interested in seeing a preview of the film, please email us at sacntuaries@asiaforanimals.com.



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