A secretive, nocturnal species, little is known about the African civet’s habits in the wild (5) (6). It is a solitary species, mainly active just before sunset until midnight, and around sunrise. During the day, females and cubs are known to sleep in a nest, while male African civets and females without cubs will sleep in thick vegetation (2).
Being omnivorous, the African civet feeds mainly on fruit and millipedes, as well as other arthropods and small mammals (6). It is even known to raid domestic rubbish, and in southern Africa its diet may also include crabs and snails (2). Being an opportunistic feeder with a broad diet means that the African civet is a rather flexible species, enabling it to inhabit a range of habitats over a wide area (6).
Communal latrines or ‘civetries’, often found next to puddles on tracks and in clearings, are thought to be used by African civets in communication and to mark territory boundaries (2) (6) (7). Scats are left in an unburied pile in an area less than 0.5 square metres, and the African civet adds anal secretions when defecating to release a long-term scent (2).
The African civet is famous for the secretions from its perianal gland, known as ‘civetone’, which are traditionally used as an ingredient in perfume production. The glands appear as two swellings near the genitalia and are on average two centimetres wide and three centimetres long. The male African civet has slightly larger glands than the female and produces a stronger secretion (2).
The African civet has a keen sense of smell, and uses its secretions to scent-mark objects surrounding civetries and along its regular paths. Scent marks are usually between 31 and 39 centimetres from the ground and are often overlaid by other individuals, possibly to communicate reproductive condition and territoriality (4) (7).
Relatively little is known about the African civet’s reproductive behaviour in the wild (5) (6). The breeding season in southern Africa is from August to January, whereas on the east coast in Kenya and Tanzania the African civet breeds from March to October. Captive females are sexually mature after 1 year of age, whereas males mature slightly earlier, from 9 to 12 months. The female normally has its first litter aged 14 months, and may have 2 or 3 litters over a year, as the gestation period ranges from 60 to 71 days (2). A litter contains one to four young, born in a nest in a hole or hollow tree trunk (4). The newborn African civet is covered in soft, dark fur, but the coat pattern is unclear (2). Each cub feeds on the female’s milk using its own teat for around 6 weeks, and begins eating solid food before it is weaned from 14 to 16 weeks (2) (4).