African Civet

The African civet lives all over sub-Saharan Africa, being equally at home in open grassland and dense forest. They are rarely found far from rivers or another permanent source of water. Its coarse hair is black with yellowish spots and stripes. During the day, civets hide in thickets of grass. At night they cross large distances, even swimming across rivers, in search of carrion, small animals, eggs, insects and fruit. They are also sometimes found out and about during cloudy days.

Like many other viverrids, the African civet has a mane down its back that can be erected to make the animal appear larger than it really is to attackers. The dark, mask-like pattern across the eyes makes this civet resemble a raccoon, but the two carnivores are not closely related. Unlike genets, in civets the claws are not retractile - they are always sticking out from the paws.

Large and doglike, the African civet has a broad head, strong neck and long legs. The hind legs are longer than the forelegs. Its coat is generally gray, with darker legs, chin and throat, and the back and flanks are patterned with dark stripes and patches. The size and spacing of these dark markings is highly variable.

By day, the African civet sleeps in a burrow or in cover of vegetation or rocks. It rarely climbs trees except to escape from an enemy, but it swims well. It emerges from its sleeping place at night to forage on the ground in its territory, which it marks with heaps of dung and by leaving marks from its scent gland on trees, shrubs, rocks and grass. Mammals (up to the size of young antelope), birds (including poultry and their eggs), reptiles, frogs, toads and insects are all hunted, and this civet will also take some carrion, as well as eating fruit and berries.

African civets live alone and only settle in one place when nursing young. Breeding takes place at any time throughout the year. The mother can suckle up to six young at a time, but litters of more than four are rare. The young are raised in a den made inside a burrow that has been deserted by another animal. The mother transports her young by clasping the loose skin on the backs of their necks in her mouth.

The female becomes sexually mature at about 1 year old and gives birth to 1 to 4 young in each litter, usually 2, after a gestation period of between 63 and 68 days. The young take their first solid food at about 3 weeks, and often kill insects for themselves at an early age. They are weaned at about 3 months. The mother calls her young to her when she wants to share food with them with a distinctive chuckling call. The female may produce as many as three litters a year.

Distribution: Southern and Central Africa, from Senegal to Somalia in the north to the Transvaal of northern South Africa.

Habitat: Forest, savanna, plains, cultivated areas.

Food: Fruits, carrion, rodents, insects, eggs, reptiles and birds.

Size: 68 - 89 cm (26.75 - 35 in); 7 - 20 kg (15.5 - 44 lb).

Maturity: 1 year.

Breeding: Each female produces 2 - 3 litters of up to 4 young each year.

Life span: 20 years.

Status: Common.